How voice calls will improve the IoT
At the iPhone launch event 10 years ago, Steve Jobs famously said that the iPhone’s killer app was making calls. It was voice, not music or the touchscreen or the camera, that would make or break his new device.
Today this might seem silly – people spend a lot of their time on their smartphone surfing the internet, watching video, sharing on social media or messaging.
But what if Jobs was still right? What if voice remains a killer app and will probably be so for a long time to come? After all, we still expect to reach a human being if we need to. And people are more and more talking with bots, voice-activated devices and AI-driven personal assistants, such as Amazon Alexa.
And what about when you need to talk to a person and you don’t have your phone? There are times when you can’t count on mobile phone access and a human-to-human connection could save lives.
What if that kind of voice is a killer app for the internet of things (IoT)?
Why do we need VoLTE over IoT?
It might seem counterintuitive for some people to feature voice in something specifically designed for, well, things. And while the proverbial connected toaster – or an industrial or automotive sensor – might not need a voice connection, there are “things” out there that could save lives by fostering human-to-human communication.
There will be a lot of things to work with too. We predicted in our latest Ericsson Mobility Report that there will be around 18 billion IoT devices globally by 2022. About 1.5 billion of those will have cellular connections, with an increasing percentage of those connected to LTE networks.
One of the clearest use cases for voice in the IoT would be emergency communication panels – think elevator, highway and fire alarm emergency call systems. Right now, these exist but are too expensive and complex to deploy in massive amounts of connected devices, but with massive IoT-enabled devices becoming cheaper to manufacture and to deploy in LTE networks, there’s now the opportunity to develop new innovative useful services for different scenarios.
The technology to enable these innovative operator-based voice communication services in IoT devices (connected over LTE networks) is already starting to emerge. So, for example, fire alarm trigger panels might be configured so that a single press of a button notifies multiple first responders such as the fire department, the hospital, and a building’s property management office.
Another use case is in remote areas, where voice can be embedded in devices with longer battery life and less need for strong network connections. These devices can use data services to send GPS location data while enabling calls for coordinated emergency response. Or how about remote first aid kits with defibrillators, disposable security garments and digital locks?
Demonstrating VoLTE calls over Cat-M1 networks
Service providers can embed voice capabilities in this way by using Voice over LTE (VoLTE) over Cat-M1, or LTE Category M1 technology, which offers benefits such as high mobility, low cost, wide coverage, longer device battery life, flexible deployment, low latency and low device cost.
In recent months, Ericsson has demonstrated with Qualcomm VoLTE calls over Cat-M1 networks with both AT&T and Verizon in the US and with China Unicom at Mobile World Congress Shanghai in China, where we also showed a fire alarm trigger panel and GPS emergency tracking device.