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Three UK Becomes First to Launch Commercial 4G Super Voice VoLTE

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015 (8:28 am) - Score 2,023

Mobile operator Three UK has this week become the first national provider to switch-on a commercial Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service, which essentially allows high quality voice calling and text messages to be sent over their normally data centric 4G network. But there’s more.

The other advantage of this new “Super Voice” service is that it will make use of the operators 800MHz radio spectrum band, which can travel further and penetrates more effectively through walls for both good indoor and outdoor coverage (i.e. it costs less to cover a wider area).

Admittedly Three UK only has a small slice of 800MHz (10MHz total or 2 x 5MHz if you prefer), which means that it won’t deliver amazing 4G data speeds, but it can still offer a nice improvement over 3G and now VoLTE is a big bonus.

At launch Three UK’s 800MHz and Super Voice coverage can already reach 53% of the UK population (this mostly reflects coverage in major cities), although they aim to cover over 65% by the end of this year and of course the roll-out will continue until their overall 4G network reaches 98% coverage in a year or so.

Bryn Jones, Three UK’s CTO, said:

By the end of the year, one million of our customers will have access to better indoor coverage and be able to use their phones in more places than ever before. We are proud to be the first network to roll this out across the country.”

As ever there is a caveat in all this, which is that you have to use a device that actually supports VoLTE technology. At launch only a small number of devices, such as the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S5, seem to be ready. However others (e.g. iPhone 6) will soon follow via a software update and by the end of 2016 some 7.5 million Three UK customers should be able to use VoLTE.

The one feature now missing from Three UK’s arsenal is native Wi-Fi Calling (i.e. you don’t need a third-party app for this), which both Vodafone and EE have already touted. Elsewhere Vodafone, EE and O2 are all expected to follow suit with their own VoLTE solutions within the coming weeks and months.

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Avatar Jooles says:

    Interestingly Three have set the network priority of 4G 800MHz to Zero. Which means that even if you have a compatible phone device and are in a 800MHz coverage area your phone will not connect to it if there is 4G 1800MHz or 3G 2100MHz available. This actually means very few people will be able to use it. To make matters worse you will only be able to use a Three branded Android handset as it requires network specific firmware. This won’t be a problem with Apple devices as they wont let the networks call the shots and any unlocked iPhone will work if the hardware supports it come October.

    There is a good thread on Digital Spy with some knowledgeable people who have been able to do maps and figure out in more depth what is really going on.

    http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showpost.php?p=79621202&postcount=1341

    http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showpost.php?p=79622565&postcount=1347

    http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showthread.php?t=2077072&page=54

  2. Avatar AndrewH says:

    Yeah, correct if you have 3G available you won’t see 800.
    It is being rolled out at the moment as a purely indoor and poor 3G outdoor coverage filler.
    This may be partly due to the fact they aren’t putting VoLTE on the 1800 4G yet.

  3. Avatar Matt says:

    Three’s 4G coverage is very much limited in my opinion…

    But it’s good that they’re trying I suppose, they could be O2… OH wait…. aren’t they supposed to be merging…

    Hmmm.. Awkward!

    1. Avatar Stephen says:

      Hi Matt

      I agree. Up in Aberdeen (+shire) they have an excellent & very widespread 3G network but when it comes to 4G they only have a few masts scattered around the city. If you were on the move you would loose your VOLTE call very very quickly as hardly any of them overlap.

      02/Vodafone installed somewhere in the region of 20 800MHZ masts & Three are only doing around 5 so far (hopefully there will be more that dont require planning permission) so they have a long way to go before they can achieve blanket coverage like the other ISPs.

  4. Avatar Tim says:

    Don’t care. O2’s 3G coverage on 900Mhz is good for voice. I’ll never go back to Three.

    Oh bugger Three have bought O2. Lol.

  5. Avatar james vincent says:

    This is what Iv’e posted on Three’s blog page.

    This is great news. But… I have recently bought a Huawei P8 [from CPW – Carphone Warehouse] I made sure it supports 800MHz band for this VoLTE launch.
    I’ve recently been told you will not push a firmware upgrade out to any phones that have not been sold direct from Three. This is not acceptable as the only reason I went to CPW is ‘cos a 3Store advisor refused to sell me a phone as I wanted to replace my contract phone. [the LG G3 is awful] I told him I was willing to pay out right for a PAYG handset & was in store to find out more details on phones as your website is limited on the info it gives. He told me to buy from the site.
    Please tell the bosses that you need to support every phone that uses your networks wherever they came from in the UK. I’ve wasted a lot of money which I thought would benefit me in the long run only to be let down. I dont have 4G 1800MHz coverage where I live. I would be happy to use 4G 800MHz without the Voice capabilities. I had planned on keeping this phone for some time to come. Now it seems I’m to be stuck with the black spots that I’ve I’ve been putting up, because I’ve been expecting the joys of LTE 800.

  6. Avatar Stephen says:

    This is the strangest 4G launch if you ask me.
    Three claim that this will be good for rural users and help people who previously couldn’t get a service.
    So does that mean they are doing a rural rollout?
    NO, they are rolling it out in the big cities first.
    So does that mean that all Three customers in these cities can use 4G800?
    NO, Only people with select new handsets & a carrier update can use it.
    So can all of the people with these handsets use 4G800?
    NO – Only if 4G1800 or 3G are not available. (how many major cities do not have 3G or 4G1800??? I’m thinking none).

    So in order to use the new 4G, you have to live in a rollout city, have a new handset, have it activated & not be able to get 4G1800 or 3G!!!
    This is a head scratcher!!

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