Telstra has begun rolling out 4G voice (VoLTE) services for some of its consumer customers, which will allow high-definition voice calls to be made using the carrier’s 4G network without a device switching to a legacy 3G network.
The services will not be available for enterprise customers during the initial rollout, the telco said.
Initially, only the Samsung Note 5, Samsung S6 Edge+, Apple iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will be supported, although Telstra promised software updates would be rolled out to Sony smartphones and other devices in the near future.
Telstra’s executive director for mobiles, John Chambers, said the rollout would also initially only be available to select post-paid consumer customers ahead of a broader rollout to business, enterprise and prepaid consumer customers.
"It's activated in the network, but there are a few processes that we need to go through before it's activated on a device itself, and we'll be progressively activating blocks of SIM cards as we move people onto the capability. But it will roll out very, very rapidly,” Chambers said.
“There are customers already making [VoLTE] calls today, but the ducks have to line up. They have to have a supported device, they have to run the software update, they have to be in the initial pool of enabled devices, and they have to have someone to ring.”
Customers using Telstra’s Callertones and Mobile Protect services will also miss out on VoLTE at first, while users on some handsets will need to switch on 4G calling in the settings menu of their device.
The new service is interoperable with existing 3G HD voice and NBN VoIP services, allowing end-to-end HD calls, the telco said.
Telstra claims around 30 percent of mobile calls over its networks currently use HD calling, and is hoping to increase that to 50 percent of all calls by June next year.
In most cases, switching between VoLTE and voice calls over legacy networks will be transparent to the end user.
It will also integrate with the carrier’s voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) and video over LTE (ViLTE) products in the future, with Telstra claiming it has successfully trialled 4G VoLTE to VoWiFi call handovers.
Chambers said in most cases other enterprise voice and video conferencing products offered by Telstra, such as Blue Jeans Network, should also be interoperable with its VoLTE product.
“IP telephony, for example, if the codec at the end can negotiate at an IP level, they can do HD voice. What we find is that not everything does, but what’s clever about it is it will negotiate down to the lowest common denominator if it has to,” Chambers said.
While mobile video calling had been a key selling point for Telstra when it launched its Next-G network in 2007, the service never caught on with consumers.
According to Chambers, despite the proliferation of over-the-top mobile video calling apps and video conferencing software, Telstra believes there will be a market for VoLTE in Australia.
"Video calling at the time, with the screen size and the data rate that was standard, didn't catch on,” Chambers said.
“But I can tell you what I'm seeing inside Telstra right now is some feeling that this is going somewhere. With video conferencing, I'm lucky if I'm doing one audio call per week.”
Over the long term, Telstra hopes to eventually switch off 3G services, but considering it's only turning off 2G services this year, 3G is likely to be around for a while.
Telstra also today released the first 4G LTE Advanced Cat 11 device in Australia, capable of peak speeds of up to 600 Mbps.
The Netgear device, marketed in Australia as the Telstra Wi-Fi 4GX Advanced 3 mobile hotspot, uses three-band carrier aggregation.
Update: Telstra had originally advised the iPhone 6 would not be included in the initial list of support devices. It has since advised the devices will be among the first supported.