What are VoLTE and HD Voice, and why should you use them?

What is VoLTE and why should I care about it?

Here in the U.S., most carriers have rolled out the red carpet for Voice over LTE. If it is available in your area and through your carriers, taking advantage of the upgrade currently depends on your having the right hardware. Once you have everything you need, setting VoLTE up on your phone is very easy and well worth it.

Let's take a deeper look.

What is VoLTE?

Image courtesy of Ericsson

As the name suggests, Voice over LTE is what happens when your carriers allows you to place a phone call over your LTE connection instead of the more common voice networks. Verizon Wireless, for example, traditionally used 1XRTT for all of your voice calls, relying on LTE for data. This used to be why Verizon phones couldn't simultaneously use voice and data. AT&T and T-Mobile, which relied on a combination of LTE for data and HSPA+ for calls, would drop down to a 3G signal when talking to someone on the other line. With VoLTE, neither of these scenarios are necessary anymore.

What both network types now have in common thanks to VoLTE is the ability to use more bandwidth to make phone calls with higher quality audio traveling both ways. When you are on a call with someone else who is using VoLTE, you immediately notice the difference in call quality on both ends. You'll also notice the calls connect faster if you are calling someone near you, and while that's not a feature worth bragging about it's a cool thing to test for yourself.

How can I use it VoLTE?

Most major U.S. and Canadian carriers have rolled out VoLTE to some extent, as of September 2016.

  • Verizon rolled out VoLTE in September 2014, and has since been building it into most new high-end devices from Samsung, LG, and Motorola. Consolidated under its HD Voice brand, VoLTE is rolled into video calling and Wi-Fi Calling, but all customers need to know is that a VoLTE-enabled device will be able to stay on LTE on a phone call, and connect to other cellphones and landlines at much higher qualities. Verizon also recently rolled out VoLTE support to prepaid devices.

  • AT&T rolled out VoLTE in May 2014, and most new devices support the protocol. Also bundled under its HD Voice brand (coincidence?), AT&T says that the higher-quality codec and reduced background noise that come with such calls are currently limited to other AT&T customers, but that it has worked with Verizon to test interoperability between networks.

  • T-Mobile rolled out VoLTE in May 2014, and says that over 50% of the calls made on its network use the new standard. Earlier this year, it appended EVS, Enhanced Voice Services, on top of the VoLTE standard, claiming to improve call quality, reliability, and connectivity speed. Most new T-Mobile phones support VoLTE out of the box, and the company has been great about updating its older devices to support it, should the hardware allow.

  • Sprint and US Cellular are in the testing stages for VoLTE, and have not yet rolled it out to customers. Sprint is in a unique position where it doesn't need VoLTE, since it has fewer customers than the other big carriers, but a comparable amount of spectrum, making it less essential to refarm the spectrum they currently use for voice calls to the more-efficient VoLTE standard. US Cellular wants to wait until VoLTE is mature enough to be revenue-positive for the company. Neither company has committed to a timeframe for public availability.

  • In Canada, Rogers, Bell, and Telus have rolled out VoLTE to some customers, though the two former have considerably wider support than Telus, which is limited to Alberta and British Columbia. The good news is that, unlike in the U.S., carrier interoperability was built into the carriers' plans, meaning that calls made between VoLTE users on Rogers and Bell will sound just as good as those made intra-network.

What else do I need to know?

One of the curious problems associated with VoLTE is accurately measuring usage to ensure that those on tight data budgets aren't getting ourselves in trouble by taking advantage of higher quality audio.

Today, all carriers count HD Voice/VoLTE calls towards the minutes in one's monthly bucket, and not data, even though VoLTE uses the same data network as video streaming or browsing the web. But for carriers like Verizon that support video calls under the VoLTE standard, the voice portion of a chat will use minutes, while the video portion will use data. Verizon says that "an average 1-minute video call uses about 6 - 8 MB of data," beware of that before making that video call — or just use Wi-Fi.

It's also worth noting that all carriers in this list also offer Wi-Fi calling, which routes regular voice calls through a Wi-Fi network in a seamless way that, in areas of poor cellular coverage, improves call quality and reliability.

While the VoLTE revolution has been slow and steady, it's good to see most U.S. and Canadian carriers beginning to take the benefits of the new technology more seriously, and ensure the experience is as seamless as possible for users like you.

Google Play is still in beta, but it’s good to be back on Chrome Stable

Google Play is finally on the Chrome Stable channel for the Asus Flip and the Acer R11.

Google has made a lot of progress getting Google Play and Android apps working on Chrome. It wasn’t the worst thing to come out of Mountain View when it initially launched, but there were bugs and it lacked a lot of polish, especially when running next to Chrome itself which is dead-simple and very user-friendly. The worst part of the experience for me and many others was using the Chrome Dev channel.

I really like being able to run a handful of apps from Google Play on my Asus Flip. I actually enjoy using a Chromebook for work and play, and the addition of apps like Slack and Hangouts — that are far better than their corresponding Chrome extensions — make me more productive. Each is one less thing I have to use my phone to do. But some of that shine was taken away when the browser would crash, or tabs would reload while I was a few hundred words into a writing groove, or everything would just stop working for a few seconds at a time. That makes things pretty rough, and eventually, I was back to the Stable channel on another Chromebook and left my Flip be a “testing device” which is really what the Dev Channel or Canary are for. Playing with developer software is fun, but I don’t recommend you try to depend on it.

Using developer software can be fun, but I can’t depend on it.

Thankfully, the Chrome Stable update to 53.0.2785.129 for the Asus Flip and the Acer R11 carried the Google Play store along with it. It’s still in beta, and it can still be a little finicky. The Play Store tells me I have no connection more often than it should. Every once in a while when I go to pull up an app from my shelf it has to restart. Annoying, but not show-stopping because everything else is working fine again. And it’s nice to have those few apps available again even if not perfect. My long national nightmare is over. Or something like that.

There are plenty of other Chromebooks that will get access to Google Play “soon.” The Chromebook Pixel (the 2015 version) hasn’t been updated to a Stable channel build with Google Play just yet, but we know it’s coming. Along with plenty of models from HP and Dell and everyone else who makes them. We have no exact timeline, for I’m looking for it to be a few weeks yet so Google and everyone involved can make sure the initial push to more users goes as smoothly as they had hoped before they push things out to any more models — we all know how Google likes to take its time with software rollouts and extended testing. When it happens we’ll let you know.

Here’s where I ask you to write a bunch of words! If you have an R11 or a Flip and didn’t jump to Dev to try Google Play (a longshot, I know) tell us what you think about it now. It’s a definite improvement on the Stable channel, and that might make us think it’s better than it is because we saw how much worse things could be. And if you’ve been using Google Play all along on your Chromebook, let me know that I’m not crazy and it really is a better experience on Stable.

Mobile Nations Weekly: Sequels and successors

iPhone 7 takes the world by storm, Forza races onto consoles everywhere, and yet another chat platform says Allo.

If there's only one iPhone 7 review you read, make it Rene's at iMore. Diving deep into what makes the new iPhone, both good and bad, it's everything you need to know about the phone you're going to start seeing everywhere. Oh, and there's also a whole new version of tvOS and even an updated and renamed Mac operating system.

The HP Elite x3 is the best Windows phone that Dan's ever used, but it's not yet ready. It's an awkward position. Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best racing games ever, if not the best — and the best Xbox One game. And Gears of War 4, coming in October is shaping up to be one heck of a game, and as an Xbox Play Anywhere title it'll work on both Xbox One and PC with one purchase.

After a few months of gestation, Google's anticipated chat app slash smart assistant Allo has launched. It's Google's latest attempt at a communications platform, and it's mostly stripped down the messaging side and seriously ramped up on the artificial intelligence. But if you're more into the hardware side of things, Google's next Nexus Pixel phones are coming on October 4. Probably.

If VR's your thing, Sony's PlayStation VR appears to be threading the needle between the accessible and affordable options that lack power (Samsung Gear VR) and the super powerful versions that demand an expensive PC to even function (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift). You might have heard of Sony — they've been doing the whole console gaming thing for a few years now — so it's no surprise that PlayStation VR has an impressive list of games lined up for launch.

Which smartphone camera do YOU think is the best?

Android Central — Say Allo to new Pixels

It was a big week in Google land, where we got confirmation that there's an event happening on October 4 with a big teaser that phones will be launched. Leaks show off some sleek hardware for the supposed Pixel and Pixel XL, and we're also expecting even more hardware announcements.

Google also launched its much-anticipated chat app Allo, with new group messaging features and integrated Google Assistant intelligence. There's a lot going on in Allo — mostly good, but some puzzling — and it's going to take a while before we're all up to speed on it.

In hardware news, Sony and Moto both unleashed very expensive U.S. unlocked models of their phones. The Xperia XZ and Moto Z are both out, and they'll each set you back $699.

CrackBerry — Android and Argon

A bit of an odd week for BlackBerry ahead of their earnings results on Sept. 28. Their, presumably, upcoming Android device better known as Argon made a brief appearance. They announced Caravan Transport Group Inc. has deployed BlackBerry Radar, and one of their rare test devices appeared for sale. On top of that, they forged a new partnership with Zimperium to provide mobile threat protection for Enterprise and Government.

iMore — What kind of week has it been

It's been a busy seven days at iMore HQ, with new iPhones, new versions of macOS, camera tests, and more. We took a first look at the AirPods, reviewed tvOS and macOS Sierra, and, of course, reviewed the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus — and recommended some must-have iPhone accessories.

We chatted with readers and each other about iOS 10 features, asking what you would change, as well as providing an alternate solution for unlocking your iPhone if you really hate the way it works in iOS 10. And for camera-inclined iOS 10 users, we wrote a guide to shooting RAW on your iPhone.

That's not the only thing iPhoneography lovers had to look forward to this week, however: We've been doing a battery of comparison tests, including zoom tests between the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, 4.7-inch iPhone comparisons, and pitted the iPhone 7 Plus's upcoming Portrait mode against a pro DSLR camera.

We've got lots more about iPhone, iOS, macOS, and camera features coming soon — as well as our Apple Watch review next week — so stay tuned for more excitement!

VR Heads — All things PlayStation VR

Sony is continuing their incredible PlayStation VR promotion efforts at trade shows and demo stations around the world, and that means lots of new games to play. With mere weeks before the official launch, we took a look back at what we've learned from these experiences so far.

Windows Central — A new Horizon

This week we took a deep dive into the new HP Elite x3, which is slowly hitting markets around the world. Although the phone has some rough edges that are to be patched in an update the phone's hardware and quality is the best we've ever seen.

Gears of War 4 is the long awaited sequel to the gaming franchise due in October. We spent a few days up at The Coalition getting a sneak peek at the campaign and even interviewed studio head, Rod Fergusson.

Speaking of games, Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best racing games we have ever tried and we gave it a perfect rating in our review. You can learn more in our ultimate buyer's guide.

Finally, the AT&T Microsoft Lumia 950 picked up the long awaited firmware update enabling double-tap to wake and many other features.

From the Editor’s Desk: How to launch a smartphone

It's okay, and entirely expected, to be frustrated by cumbersome phone launches — but some perspective on what's happening can be helpful.

Launching a smartphone is difficult. Even if you think you understand how difficult it is, it's far more difficult still. When you're a small company you have a certain set of problems, usually limited by money and scale of distribution; but if you're big, you have an exponentially larger customer base to serve and the issues associated with the momentum of a huge company.

In the past couple of weeks we've seen a range of issues come front and center before consumers. On one hand, we have the Note 7 — it hit the market swiftly with carrier and retailer support, but had a critical battery flaw that required weeks of backtracking and recalls. Then we have Moto and Sony, which both just launched unlocked phones in the U.S. for what most are calling "too high" $699 prices — bonus round of fail is Moto is launching unlocked nearly four months later than its Verizon Droid Editions (which themselves launched over a month after announce). And finally we have the LG V20, which was unveiled three weeks ago now and we've yet to see even a peep of pricing, availability or pre-orders from the U.S. carriers — and no indication whatsover that it's coming to Europe.

When launching a phone, stumbles are almost inevitable.

The point here is that no matter how big or small the company is, the process of creating and launching a phone while hitting every last point to a T is near impossible. And even when you think you've really nailed it, something happens in the open market that can torpedo the plans. There are so many moving parts, whether it's manufacturing, distribution, carrier partnerships, pricing quibbles with the accounting department or a problem with a supplier. Something inevitably has to give, and there are compromises made throughout the process.

We hold these companies to extremely high standards, and rightfully so — they're asking for a lot of our money, loyalty and patience when launching new products. But if we take a minute to consider just how many balls are up in the air at any given time for a phone launch, it can help us understand what's happening while we're frustrated that our next phone costs $700, is launching two months late and is missing a key feature.

Now, a few other thoughts on other things:

  • On my monrning Alaska Airlines flight, we received a specific announcement from the head flight attendants that Note 7s should be turned off and unplugged for the duration of the flight. Seems like a common refrain, based on my Twitter feed over the past week.
  • I now have a new Note 7 with a fresh battery and its associated green battery icon. Everything seems normal.
  • The Note 7 is on the back burner for now, though, as I have an LG V20 to spend more time with (it's pre-production and not review-ready, but I'm excited nonetheless). It's bigger than I remember it being; much more imposing than the Note 7.
  • I'm already loving the wide-angle rear camera on the V20, though. The build dramatically nicer than the LG G5 as well.
  • Also been using a pair of Samsung Gear IconX earbuds (those totally wireless ones). Russell Holly's handling our review, but I'll contribute some thoughts also. They're a great tech demo, and are clearly positioned for exercise — but they're pretty bad for daily listening headphones.
  • I love that when I travel internationally I don't even have to think about connectivity. T-Mobile and Project Fi have me covered.

This Editor's Desk is nicely timed, as I'm going to have a little bit of a vacation. Enjoy whatever your local equivalent of a beach and a fruity drink is, and have a great week.

Amsterdam’s autonomous canal boats, and more in the week that was

Hydrogen-powered cars and planes are on the rise, and this week Germany announced plans to launch the world's first completely hydrogen-powered passenger train in 2017. In other transportation news, Volvo unveiled a new SuperTruck that's 70 percent m...

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