MetroPCS beat SKT to VoLTE punch

Michael Carroll
16 Aug 2012

A battle is brewing for bragging rights over who launched the world’s first commercial voice over LTE (VoLTE) service.

US operator MetroPCS claims to have signed up the world’s first VoLTE subscriber, and sold the first compatible handset, on August 7. However, South Korean carrier SK Telecom staked a similar claim on August 8, as did its domestic rival LG Uplus.

Each company issued bold statements based on their market leadership. Roger Linquist, chairman and chief of MetroPCS, said. "Being the first operator globally to reach this industry first speaks volumes about our company's innovative spirit and passion to achieve goals that we believe will have long-term benefit for our customers and for the company.” Meanwhile, SKT network operations president, Bae Joon-dong, stated his firm’s launch establishes it “as [a] top LTE service provider in terms of market share, network infrastructure and technology.”

So which is right?

Careful examination of global time differences provides the answer. SKT claims to have signed up its first two VoLTE customers at 1pm on August 8. South Korea is nine hours ahead of GMT while Dallas, MetroPCS’ home, is six hours behind. Assuming the US operator turned its service on at 9am local time on August 7 that means it was midnight, August 8, in South Korea. If we calculate purely on the signing of the first customer, that makes MetroPCS the winner by eleven hours.

In the long term, such bragging rights may not matter, given predictions of soaring growth in subscribers for VoLTE and voice over HSPA (VoHSPA).

Research firm Signals and Systems Telecom tips the two standards to drive overall voice over mobile broadband (VoMBB) subscriber numbers from 100,000 at end-2012 to 450 million by end-2016 – equivalent to 5% of global mobile voice subscriptions – and generate $100 billion (€81 billion) in voice revenues.

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