VoLTE has been in the news this week - AT&T announced that as of May 23rd it will have VoLTE service in four states, supported by just a single phone - the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
Not to let AT&T seem too far ahead, Verizon yesterday re-announced their own plans to move to VoLTE - with support coming nationwide on a range of new (and a few existing but unnamed) phones by the end of the year.
But what on earth is VoLTE - and why should you care?
Right now - to make a voice phone call, cell phones switch their radios back to the old voice network to make the call. This is why most Verizon phones can't surf the web or get email while a call is underway, and AT&T phones drop back to 3G data speeds until the call is completed.
Voice over LTE changes things up - sending your voice call as data over the 4G/LTE data network. This keeps your data connection running full speed, and allows for "HD Voice" that will let your voice calls to other VoLTE phones come through sounding more CD-quality than AM radio.
VoLTE also should make it possible to switch between voice and video calls, since it is all just data flowing now -- there is no separate "call" mode unique to old-school voice calls.
VoLTE has a lot of advantages - and it opens the doors to the carriers eventually being able to fully retire their legacy voice networks someday down the road - freeing up a lot more space for fast data.
Verizon in 2010 said they expected to roll out VoLTE by late 2012, so it has been slow in coming. But with all the major carriers and phone makers ramping up to support VoLTE - it looks as if 2014 will at last be the year VoLTE starts to go mainstream.