The proliferation of LTE networks is making life pretty sweet – and fast – for mobile users right now. Consumers are spending more time watching videos from their smartphones and tablets, all the while never knowing the complex signaling protocols that are giving them a seamless experience, regardless of whether they’re roaming in and out of 3G and 4G territory. LTE’s signaling protocol, Diameter, makes the interactions with other networks possible, and it might be the most important enabler mobile consumers never heard of.
Let’s say you walk into a Starbucks. There’s a huge line, and your wait for that Pumpkin Spice Latte is looking pretty long. You switch to WiFi so you can tap into the coffee shop’s network to catch up on some funny cat videos on YouTube or watch the end of that “Orange is the New Black” episode you started on Netflix. A lot has to happen behind the scenes for that switch to occur, and it happens in less time than it takes the barista to ring up your order.
The signaling protocol for WiFi networks is Radius. To switch from Diameter to Radius, there needs to be an interworking function that handles user activity, billing and the handoff. The same kind of scenario has to happen when users roam from LTE to 3G, which is still a growing network with which operators will have to work for a long, long time. The switch from a Diameter-based network to an SS7-based network needs to occur seamlessly. This is where a Diameter interworking function (IWF) comes in to make sure this occurs without messing up the user experience.
LTE is also bringing HD Voice more to the fore. This is the voice codec that makes it sound like you are in the same room with the person to whom you’re speaking. Believe me, I’ve talked using these codecs and the quality is impressive. You’ll need an HD Voice-capable phone (you may even have one now and not know it) but once they are standard, you’ll hear the difference.
LTE is also likely to contribute to the success of WebRTC. Because LTE is a mobile on-ramp to the Internet, people will be using their mobile devices to access the Internet more and more. And when they do that, they only need to click on a URL to make a call, and this will certainly contribute to WebRTC voice and video calls taking off.
Which brings up another important behind-the-scenes point. Just like Diameter interworking for signaling interactions, there will need to be media transcoding for media interactions. If you make an HD Voice or WebRTC phone call and it goes to a non-LTE network or WebRTC endpoint, then you’ll need media transcoding to make sure the phone or video call goes through.
Mobile users don’t need to know this, of course. They only need to know that their calls, Internet usage and video downloads will work, regardless of where they are or how they move between networks. The burden is on their service providers to make sure there aren’t any glitches along the way.