If you’ve been paying attention to any of the advertising around mobile phones and services, you’ll be familiar with the term “4G”. The latest and greatest mobile tech (until 5G shows up in the not too distant future), 4G sounds like an evolution of the phone system from the 3G you used to use a few years ago. And indeed, it is – when it comes to your mobile data connection. However, Telstra made strides to add 4G calls to the mix as well, and we’ve got the scoop on what that means for you.
We’re sure you’ve been taking full advantage of 4G technology. You’ve been travelling around loading web pages and blazing fast speeds, streaming music and video without buffering or interruptions or uploading your holiday photos to the cloud. But you probably weren’t aware that the 4G part of your phone service only applies to the data. When you make or receive a voice call – you know, that function that mobile phones are actually built for – you’re seamlessly dropping back to the older 3G network for the duration of your chat.
There’s a few reasons that this is the case. For one thing, the 3G network is robust, reliable and perfectly adequate for basic phone conversations. 3G was primarily built to improve the quality, reliability and security of voice calls. Meanwhile, the data component of 3G was something of an afterthought – slow, unreliable and no fun to use on a modern web site with its megabytes of page elements.
4G was, in many ways, put in place to solve the data problem. After all, not many people were complaining about their phone’s ability to act as a phone (coverage permitting). But built into the 4G spec is a special treat for those who make voice calls. A feature that makes real improvements and turns your smartphone into a voice phone that’s vastly superior to even the most capable and expensive home phone. It’s clever tech with a clumsy name – VoLTE.
VoLTE is an initialism that stands for Voice over LTE. Here, LTE is the industry name for what you and I know as 4G (for those playing at home, it stands for “Long Term Evolution” – because it was designed from the ground up to be upgradeable when new technology and faster speeds come along). You’re unlikely to see the term used much outside of tech sites and blogs, though. Instead, mobile networks around the world that have adopted VoLTE have given it a name of their own. Here in Australia, for example, we have Telstra HD Calling rather than Telstra VoLTE. Thankfully, the more consumer-friendly name also explains what this new tech is all about, and if you’d like learn more about the innovative telcom check out this Telstra Review.
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What does it actually do?
When using a compatible phone – more on that shortly, but you’ll need one of the newer big-brand smartphones for now – activating VoLTE gives you a vastly superior phone call experience. Exactly how amazing that experience is will depend on several factors, but one instant advantage is obvious the first time you make a call. You punch in the number, hit the “call” button, and the phone at the other end rings almost instantly. You’ll especially notice that when calling other VoLTE enabled phones, as well as landlines.
If you’re calling someone whose smartphone is also running VoLTE, though, prepare to be floored. We’re all so used to the scratchy, tin-can quality of phone calls we’ve had all our lives that we just expect our calls to sound that way. But call someone with a VoLTE smartphone and you’ll be amazed at the quality and clarity of the call. It’s like they’re talking to you on a high-quality broadband voice service like Skype instead of via the mobile phone network.
There’s a good reason for that – it’s pretty much exactly what they’re doing. VoLTE doesn’t use the standard mobile phone network to send and receive audio. Instead, it sets up a data connection via the fast 4G broadband built into your phone, and gets the audio to and from your phone network that way instead. It’s effectively a VOIP system – just like Skype – but baked right into your phone service.
The end of the data downgrade
Ever had to look something up online while you’re in the middle of a mobile call? You might have noticed that your mobile broadband has become inconveniently slow at the worst possible time – when you’ve got someone waiting on the line for you to fetch the info. The reason for that is simple. When you’re making a normal mobile call, your smartphone hands over to the 3G network for the call and for any data usage while the call is active.
Because it’s sending your voice calls over the 4G network, though, VoLTE means that your phone’s broadband continues to run at full 4G speed while you’re talking. Not only is this brilliant for those times you pop out of the call to look something up. It’s also a godsend for those of you who tether your phone to your laptop (or even home PC) for data use. Now, you can take a call and not see your mobile broadband slow down until your conversation is over.
Well, okay, we call it a “conference call” nowadays. But the tech behind VoLTE allows you to set up multi-person calls between up to five people. All with crystal-clear voice clarity throughout. Everyone needs to be on handsets running VoLTE, though. You can have that morning meeting while you’re spread out across the city on your journeys to work. Or it could let your uni study group catch up on everyone’s progress. All without having to mess around with getting everyone online and onto a chat program. True, it’s not a feature everyone’s going to use a lot. But when you need it, having that capability baked right into your phone is brilliant.
How do I get it?
For starters, to use VoLTE you’ll need a compatible device. For Telstra HD Calling the current range of supported handsets includes Apple’s iPhone 6, 6S, 7 or SE or Samsung’s Galaxy S6, S7, J1, J3 and Note 5. The list also includes Google Pixel, as are Sony Xperia Z5, XZ and X Performance, HTC 10 and LG G5. Telstra’s own Signature phones also support VoLTE out of the box.
On Samsung phones, you’ll need to be running the latest firmware from Telstra rather than from Samsung themselves. Developers are currently working on that. But if you’re not getting Telstra HD Voice on your Galaxy right now with the latest firmware, it’s worth checking with Telstra to make sure you have the right firmware installed.
Apple iPhone users have it easy, but they do have to enable VoLTE manually. You’ll need to pop into Settings, then Mobile, then Mobile Data Options, and select “Voice and Data”. The Telstra Mobile network will notice and switch you to VoLTE within a few hours. You can check if your iPhone has it enabled in Settings by going to General, then About, scrolling down to the Service Provider entry (you should see something like “Telstra 27.1”) and tapping it. If the display changes to “IMS Status: Voice” then you’re good to go!
Is it worth the fuss?
The great thing about VoLTE is that there’s actually no fuss involved – and no additional cost, either. It’s a high-tech upgrade to your existing Telstra mobile service that gives you faster call connection. Plus, you also get fast data while on a call, high quality audio and group calling on the handset and plan you’re using right now. If you’ve got one of the ever-growing number of handsets that can support Telstra HD Calling, you’ve got access to the very latest mobile phone tech at no extra cost. If you spend any decent amount of time talking on your phone, this is as revolutionary for voice calls as 4G itself was for data.