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Docomo announces launch of LTE voice calls

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

NTT Docomo Inc. announced Wednesday that it will launch the nation’s first high-quality voice call service using fast LTE networks in June, aiming to halt the decline in revenue from voice calls.

With new fixed-price voice call plans set to start in June and the high-quality service named Voice over LTE, or VoLTE, Docomo is pushing the voice call service in an era in which people increasingly communicate with messaging services like the Line app and social network services such as Facebook.

“Voice calls — we’d like (people) to think of them again as a basic telecommunications” component, Docomo President Kaoru Kato said at a news conference Wednesday.

The major carriers have rushed to build fast LTE networks over the past few years and they are quickly growing into the primary mobile Internet infrastructure, replacing the slower 3G networks.

Currently, voice calls are connected through 3G networks, but Docomo will be using LTE by late next month.

Kato said VoLTE is superior to 3G calls as it provides much clearer sound and connects calls several seconds faster.

A demonstration during the news conference made VoLTE’s sound quality appear far better than over 3G. The higher quality is mainly achieved via new voice data compression technology, Docomo said.

However, to experience clearer voice calls, users have to use VoLTE-ready handsets.

Docomo said it will provide four VoLTE-ready smartphones and two tablets in its lineup for this summer.

The company will also start a new monthly fixed-price voice call plan from June, charging ¥2,700 for smartphones and ¥2,200 for other cellphones, while it currently charges ¥21 per 30 seconds.

As communications methods have shifted more to email, messaging services and SNS over the years, the carriers’ voice call revenues have been falling.

“It’s true that voice call revenue has been decreasing, but we hope that the higher quality and new price plans . . . will help stop that trend,” Kato said.

Another goal behind the VoLTE service is to use frequencies more efficiently. LTE technology can handle data traffic more efficiently than 3G, so as people start using VoLTE and vacate 3G bandwidths, Docomo will be able to replace disused 3G network equipment with that for the LTE network, the company said.