AT&T turns on Voice over LTE, gives it cutesy name

Sound the trumpets… because you’ll hear them a little more clearly. That is, if you have an iPhone 6 and AT&T. According to LightReading, AT&T has been actively installing new equipment on cell towers to enable “HD-Voice,” the commonly used name for one of the most appealing parts of Voice-over-LTE.

As you recall, Voice-over-LTE, or VoLTE, is a technology that uses the frequencies that today are used for data only, but uses them for voice instead. This gives carriers a “clean slate” to work with when creating new protocols. That can mean clearer calls and better reception, plus when all cell systems transfer to this system, it could potentially mean lighter and less expensive cell phones.

And oh, that’s right, better quality. Much better quality. If you’ve ever heard HD-Voice, you’d think you were listening to a high-end pair of earphones not a cell phone. It’s almost eerie how good it sounds. For now, HD-Voice is limited to AT&T subscribers with iPhone 6 and above devices, but according to this map you’ll find HD Voice in a very large swath of the country.

When conditions are right — meaning both parties have iPhone 6 or higher, and LTE reception is good, and both people are in an area with HD-Voice turned on — the phones will automatically switch to the newer technology an the only thing that the customer will notice is incredibly clear sound quality. Because the technology is different from older voice calls, it also takes up less bandwidth, making it easier for AT&T to balance demand with cell tower capacity.

Other carriers have announced plans for widespread adoption of VoLTE technologies, but it’s been slow going. We debunked the rumor that VoLTE would take hold in 2014 (it didn’t) and now it looks like we really have to think about 2017 or 2018 as potential “tipping point” years for the technology. New phones that support the technology need to be rolled out, and not just Apple and Samsung devices. There are millions upon millions of phones from other manufacturers out there and until all of them support VoLTE it’s not really going to take hold.

And of course, it will have to work with multiple carriers. Right now this is a great selling point for AT&T, but if we’re all going to get better call quality and if the cell networks are going to advance into the next decade. it seems to me that the other guys have a bit of catching up to do. Until then, the people who’ve been driving AT&T’s success since 2007 (iPhone fans) have a little treat all to themselves.