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EE to Conduct LIVE UK Trials of Voice Calls over WiFi and 4G Mobile

Friday, Jun 20th, 2014 (9:06 am) - Score 1,619

Mobile operator EE has announced, as part of their 2014 investment of £275m to improve phone calls, that it will soon conduct one of the United Kingdom’s first trials of Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE / 4G) tech using the 800MHz band (this will also benefit rural areas) and a similar trial using WiFi (native SMS/TXT services will also available through WiFi).

The operator notes that its efforts to improve voice calling on their network, which handles more than 900 million calls each week, has already resulted in more than 6,000 2G masts being upgraded with entirely new equipment over the last 18 months. On top of that over 2,000 3G masts have also had their capacity doubled.

But EE intends to go a lot further when it introduces a “carrier grade” WiFi calling capability during autumn 2014, which will allow customers on related wireless networks (WLAN’s in homes, offices or via public hotspots etc.) to “make calls, with a higher quality and greater degree of reliability than unmanaged VoIP services“. Related calls can be made through your phone’s native dialler, with no need to rely on an app, and TXT messages will also be supported.

Fotis Karonis, CTO of EE, said:

Our WiFi calling capability will let customers make calls where they have access to WiFi but not to the mobile network. The customer experience is seamless because it’s the same as making a network call and uses the normal call interface of the handset.

This is a major part of our strategy to invest in giving customers the ability to make a call wherever they are, and we’re confident that this service can make a big difference to people in homes and large offices across the country, especially in the most rural areas, that don’t have mobile coverage.”

But perhaps the most interesting development stems from EE’s plan to launch a trial of Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology, which is due to surface sometime in 2015 and will also “expand network coverage in rural areas using low frequency spectrum for the first time” (i.e. by using the 800MHz spectrum that they won as part of last year’s 4G auction).

At present 4G isn’t very good at handling voice calls (it’s more data centric) and so most of those still go via the older parts of the operators network, although the future introduction of VoLTE could change all that (LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and underpins modern 4G mobile technology). EE has already demonstrated the service in lab tests and the next stage will be to conduct a trial later in 2014, before proceeding into a commercial deployment next year.

The initial trial is expected to help expand both data (Mobile Broadband) and voice coverage, bringing the service to a previously unconnected part of rural Oxfordshire. This will be partly due to the improved coverage afforded by the lower frequency 800MHz band. Once complete EE anticipates that its 4G network will also be exceeding 90% population coverage.

Karonis adds:

4G calling, or VoLTE, is an exciting technology that we’re going to be trialling in the coming months using our low frequency spectrum, bringing one of the world’s best voice and data services to a part of rural Britain that has previously been unconnected. When we have rigorously tested the performance of 4G calling and made sure that it matches our 2G and 3G quality, we’ll launch it nationwide on our 4G network.”

EE has also introduced three key initiatives to help improve phone calls for its 26 million customers.

The 3 Initiatives

• The capability of the MyEE App to identify when a device hits a whitespot, or ‘no service’ area, and ping the network to give its location. This enables the EE network teams to identify the exact spots where customers are not able to make calls, even in areas where coverage is generally good. The MyEE App is currently being used on more than half a million handsets

• The nationwide ambition to halve the dropped call rate (DCR) in 2014, creating a world-leading call experience for customers. A rate of 0.4%, across both 2G and 3G, has already been consistently achieved in Derby, where the integration and optimisation of the EE network is at its most advanced stage

• The ‘Platinum Project’, which aims to create a ‘zero defect’ phone call experience for customers in the busiest parts of the UK, giving the best possible quality of voice. Trial areas for the project include the entirety of the M25 Orbital, Canary Wharf and The Southbank. EE network teams are walking and driving thousands of miles in these areas to identify any areas that need enhancing, and reconfiguring local masts to ensure the best possible service

It’s interesting to note that UK Broadband Ltd. (PCCW) has also been planning to test VoLTE technology using their 3.5-3.6GHz spectrum (here), although so far we’ve yet to see this happen. Likewise O2, Vodafone and Three UK have all hinted at an ambition to deploy the service in the not too distant future, although much like EE they want to focus on getting their physical 4G networks rolled out to the masses first.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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