What Is 5G Voice and Why Is It So Important?

(Image Credit: Pexels)

You know the standard joke on Instagram… Someone gets a new phone and they show the camera features in some fabulous pics. Then, almost as an afterthought, they say, “Oh, and it makes phone calls too.

You don’t have to be a data scientist to know that in recent years, voice has moved down on our list of fave phone features. Aside from business, I rarely even use voice on my phone.

Lately though, voice is experiencing a resurgence for a number of new applications. Now we can use voice or voice-to-machine communication to connect with other people or things via AI and chatbots. We can even steer things (i.e. drones) with our voices.

With 5G on the horizon, you might think calling people and talking on the phone is old news, but actually this good ‘ol technology will play an important role in 5G for many reasons.

Service providers should start thinking of how to bring their current voice service into the future, and with 5G Voice in place, new opportunities are arising.

Why?

Think about it… Many of the new technologies we’ve been drooling about for years rely on voice in one way or the other (i.e. IoT-enabled services, remote robotic control, AR/VR/MR, telepresence apps, etc.).

With 5G Voice in place, there will be new opportunities to develop the service provider voice service even further. People will become even more accustomed to using their voice for many other kinds of use cases (whether that is communicating with humans or machines).

A few months ago, Forbes published a post for marketers that read, “Voice technology is taking over, and it will transform how your customers find and interact with your brand.

Even The Economist touched on the transformative nature of voice technology as it relates to our every day lives. “Like casting a magic spell, it lets people control the world through words alone.”

Voice is the unexpected comeback kid and a disruptive force. I think this will become even more crystal clear in the next two years. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to the new voice of the future. It’s very different than what you’ve been used to, and it’s worth getting excited about.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, let me interject this right now:

If you’re a Service Provider, Solutions Architect, Geek in a Core Network Technical / Strategy Department or an Industry Analyst covering mobile core networks/LTE/5G — and if you’re hunting down some deep dive details on this topic, please consider jumping on Ericsson’s 5G Voice Webinar on November 28. You’ll learn more about the network evolution aspects of voice over 5G. If you’re reading this after that date, no worries, the link will take you to the on-demand recording.

What Is 5G Voice and Why Is It So Important?

That’s a big matzo ball, I know.

I decided to get the answer from the experts. I interviewed Ralf Keller, Expert in 5G Voice and Kati Öhman, Solution Marketing Manager at Ericsson. Their answer really shines a light on the backend complexity of it all.

All smartphones require a voice service, and that is true on 5G also. So 5G Voice is service provider enabled voice calls on 5G smartphones (and other kinds of 5G devices) using your regular mobile phone number.

This may sound very basic, which it is from a user point of view. But deploying this in a mobile network is a lot more complex than you could probably imagine!

That is why we’re working hard right now on defining this in the telecommunications industry together with infrastructure vendors like Ericsson, smartphone manufacturers, service providers, etc. That way, all mobile operators globally can start planning for how to implement this in future 5G networks, which they are starting to build now.

Ericsson has published several Voice Papers that describe this process in more detail. In the first paper, I read that the “Voice evolution starts with VoLTE.” I asked Ralf and Kati to expand on this concept a bit.

5G Voice will use the current network infrastructure IMS, which is already used today to deliver voice over LTE services on LTE smartphones.

So, in order to also be able to make voice calls on a 5G smartphone, your service provider must have first launched voice over LTE.

In addition, it will take some time until 5G is deployed in the full network. In the meantime, there is a need to interwork with existing 4G networks.

From the end user perspective, it is the same voice service being offered regardless of whether it’s on 4G or 5G. End users expect seamless service continuity even when changing between 4G and 5G.

From a consumer perspective, I can completely agree with them about what end users expect. We want a seamless voice experience regardless of any network complexity happening on the backend. We are a finicky bunch with high expectations.

How Can Classic Telcom Strengths Be Used In This Next Evolution Of VoLTE?

A voice call enabled on your mobile phone and delivered via your service provider uses your phone number.

The phone number is actually the largest global social network today. You can reach anyone on the planet that has a phone number by simply making that call on any phone!

These calls should be very reliable and work well even when networks are congested. Phone calls are always prioritized over any other traffic in a network (i.e. web-browsing, streaming videos, etc).

In addition, emergency calls are supported, using pretty much the same solution as for voice, with the additions needed to reach the local emergency center and to fulfill the national requirements regarding emergency service.

SMS will also be supported in 5G. While in many networks, the majority of messages are sent by other solutions, there are still use cases and even end users that demand SMS to be supported in 5G.

What About Service Providers? What Should They Be Doing Now When It Comes to 5G?

Voice does not determine the 5G strategy for operators, but if an operator has decided to move ahead to 5G, then voice (and emergency call and SMS) must be supported. At Ericsson, we are providing support and hopefully guidance on how to support voice, emergency call and SMS in 5G.

Getting back to what I said at the beginning of this post, I believe 5G Voice is about more than just voice. It’s about adding fuel to so many of the other IoT-enabled services and other emerging technologies that we’re looking forward to.

Of course, I asked Ralf and Kati about this… I wanted to know about the bells and whistles. I wanted to know about the sparkle and glitter.

What Other Cool Things Will 5G Voice Enable Aside From Making High Quality Phone Calls On 5G Smartphones?

Voice must work in order for all the other new and cooler 5G capabilities to be made available. Build the foundation for voice and other broadband services in 5G first — and then add on new cool things!

We are looking into and working on several different ideas and concrete implementations on how 5G can bring an even more valuable user experience to consumers and business users — to industries and other use cases. So stay tuned for our next blog posts, webinars and join us at Mobile World Congress 2019. We will share some new cool things!

From a Consumer Perspective, What Can We Expect With 5G Voice?

You’ll have a 5G smartphone, with super fast 5G surfing speeds and low latency. You should of course be able to make high-quality and reliable voice calls, just like you do today in 4G and 2G/3G networks.

What is a bit new, is a new voice codec (tech name EVS, Evolved Voice Service, 3GPP standardized). This has already started to be used in voice over LTE networks today. But in 5G, it will hopefully be the default voice codec.

This means every consumer who buys a 5G smartphone has it built-in. It will provide a greater voice quality experience than what HD voice provides today.

Some service providers market this today in LTE networks with the GSMA trademark “HD voice +”. Another new benefit of this voice codec is that when sharing music over a voice call, the quality becomes a lot better than with HD voice. Think of music announcements when queuing for the help desk for example.

Or even better — Let’s say you didn’t get that ticket to your favorite rock band. Your friend could call you, and you could hear the music with quite good quality while you talk to her during the concert.”

I learned a lot from this little chat with Ralf Keller, Expert in 5G Voice and Kati Öhman, Solution Marketing Manager at Ericsson.

My 6 Key Takeaways

  1. Voice is still the King of communication, and in our new 5G world, it will be as important as ever.
  2. 5G Voice must work in order for all the other cool 5G capabilities to be made available. Voice is the foundation. Focus on that first.
  3. There are several different 5G deployment paths. Voice services are required in all 5G evolution steps for all of the different models, regardless of which path a service provider chooses.
  4. The industry agrees that the IMS telephony service will continue to be used in 5G. This means the voice evolution starts with VoLTE.
  5. I’ve read a lot of hype about 5G over the past few years. I enjoyed reading Ericsson’s 5G Voice Papers because they avoid hype and talk straight. They provide various use cases and deployment models. These Papers are full of valuable info for Service Providers, Solutions Architects and Industry Analysts.
  6. I can see the sparkle and glitter that will come with 5G Voice. I’m looking forward to once again becoming familiar with using my voice for richer communication (communication with other people, and with things).

If you’re a Service Provider, Solutions Architect, Geek in a Core Network Technical / Strategy Department or an Industry Analyst covering mobile core networks/LTE/5G — and if you’re hunting down some deep dive details on this topic, please consider jumping on Ericsson’s 5G Voice Webinar on November 28. You’ll learn more about the network evolution aspects of voice over 5G. If you’re reading this after that date, no worries, the link will take you to the on-demand recording.

What do you think about 5G Voice? I’m looking forward to your opinion. As always, thank you for reading my blog post.

(Image Credit: Flicker Commons)

Tech journalist, Apple ACN, Digital Transformation, IoT, 5G, AI and the future of tech.

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