Voice and communication services trends and outlook

VoLTE is the foundation for enabling globally interoperable voice and communication services on 4G and 5G devices. Subscriptions are expected to reach 3 billion by the end of 2020.

Key findings

  • VoLTE subscriptions are forecast to reach 3 billion by the end of 2020.
  • Despite increased traffic and longer call times, VoLTE call retainability improved at the time of COVID-19 lockdowns due to decreased user mobility across networks.
  • The number of VoLTE-enabled devices continues to expand. The latest market offering is smart speakers with voice-calling capabilities.

Reliable, high-quality voice services are more crucial than ever. Service providers continue to evolve their networks to support VoLTE-based services. These have now been launched in more than 210 networks in 100 countries.1 VoLTE services are being deployed using cloud technologies to enable cost-efficient network operations, easier capacity scaling and faster service deployment.

VoLTE subscriptions are estimated to reach 3 billion at the end of 2020 and 6.4 billion by the end of 2025. This will account for almost 90 percent of all combined LTE and 5G subscriptions. The shutdown of 2G and 3G networks will accelerate VoLTE adoption and VoLTE roaming agreements. VoLTE will support subscribers and roamers with voice services, as the current most used 4G voice solution, Circuit-Switched Fallback (CSFB), will not work without 2G or 3G.

VoLTE (using IP Multimedia Subsystem, or IMS) is also the foundation for enabling 5G voice calls, SMS, rich communications services (RCS), and new communication services on 5G devices. IMS is the only standardized voice solution for 5G, and there is no CSFB of voice from 5G. 5G voice will be deployed stepwise in 4G and 5G networks, using LTE-NR dual connectivity, Evolved Packet System fallback and voice over New Radio (VoNR). Successful end-to-end testing of 5G voice (VoNR) and 5G video calling with network infrastructure and the device ecosystem has been conducted.

Figure 14: VoLTE subscriptions by region (billion)

Figure 14: VoLTE subscriptions by region (billion)

Device availability and use case uptake

There are over 2,650 VoLTE-enabled 4G devices, of which around 85 percent are phones.2 More than 40 5G phones include VoLTE support.3 VoLTE-enabled smartphones also have enhanced functionalities, such as the latest voice codecs and native video calling. There are more than 165 models supporting HD Voice+ (Evolved Voice System, or EVS), and more than 400 devices capable of video calling over LTE (ViLTE).4

The latest service provider market offering is smart speakers with voice calling capabilities, using the same mobile phone number as that of a smartphone. This builds on VoLTE multi-device network capabilities which tie several devices, such as phones, smartwatches and smart speakers, to the same phone number. Over 90 service provider networks support cellular smartwatches enabled with voice services.

Other VoLTE-based services include additional phone lines on the same phone, shared phone lines, video calling, enterprise collaboration services in combination with mobile HD voice, and voice for IoT devices. 5G-related service innovations for consumers, enterprises and industries are being explored, including combinations with AR and VR. 5G interactive calling – combining a 5G voice call with real-time content sharing, for example, joint web browsing on 5G smartphones, or business and enterprise media sharing between different devices and endpoints – could become a radically improved, mainstream 5G voice service in the future.

VoLTE usage and performance in times of crisis

Analysis of VoLTE usage across Europe during the weeks before and after the recent global lockdowns began revealed a significant increase in traffic, mainly due to longer call times. Due to reduced mobility of users across networks, the retainability of voice calls was improved. The VoLTE traffic increase varied by 20–50 percent across different markets in Europe.5 In some other markets, service providers experienced up to a 90 percent increase in Voice over Wi-Fi calls as people spent more time at home.

1 GSA (May 2020)

2 GSA (May 2020) modules, smartphones and other types of devices, supporting different regions and frequencies

3 GSA (May 2020)

4 GSA (May 2020)

5 Based on data from a selection of representative countries in Europe