T-Mobile is the first network operator to offer voice over 5G
According to the carriers in the United States, 5G has arrived. However, one important element of the puzzle is still missing: voice. Even in areas where 5G internet coverage is extensive, phone calls still mostly rely on LTE networks. T-Mobile revealed today that it has made a tiny step toward making voice over 5G a reality. Some commercial calls will be routed over T-standalone Mobile’s 5G network in Portland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Voice over 5G (also known as Voice over New Radio, or VoNR) is a huge problem for the whole wireless industry, though all US carriers will most certainly want to transition voice calling to 5G at some point in the future in order to free up LTE spectrum for 5G. Voice calls via 5G have decreased latency, therefore there are actual benefits for customers.
Not every carrier, however, is eager to send calls over 5G. According to Fierce Wireless, T-Mobile was leading the charge last year as part of its ambitions to be viewed as the leader in 5G. Verizon and AT&T, on the other hand, appear satisfied to continue using LTE for calls as they build their 5G networks. T-Mobile has a tendency of boasting about its 5G firsts, including the first voice call over a 5G standalone network with LTE as a fallback in 2020.
VoNR is something Dish is working on as it builds a 5G network from the ground up, and it could be a stumbling block in meeting the FCC’s criteria as part of the Sprint merger deal. It lacks its own LTE network to fall back on while figuring out VoNR, and analysts believe the carrier is struggling to achieve smooth handoffs between voice calls on 5G and the LTE networks it utilizes as roaming partners. If it meets the FCC’s goal of covering 20% of the population by the end of the month, it will very certainly be with data entirely from its own network.
In the meanwhile, even if you’re a T-Mobile customer in Portland or Salt Lake City, you’re unlikely to see a 5G voice call in the wild. For the time being, the technology is only compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S21 and is only available in “restricted areas” of those cities.