While there are, among the existing mobile standards, some best suited than others, the answer to which is best depends greatly on a number of factors, including commercial support, manufacturer adoption and simply the place where the calls are placed. But the most important consideration is how much it allows you to really save on the calls. Let’s compare the suitability of the LTE, WiMAX, 3G, Wi-Fi and GSM wireless standards in the light of their cost benefits, accessibility, hardware support and speed.
GSMGSM (the standard for cellular networks) isn’t really the type of standard for VoIP. In fact, VoIP services tend to provide products that allow mobile communicators to rid themselves of the high GSM call costs. There are however a handful of VoIP services that work through a SIM card – the first and last parts of a call are channeled over GSM networks and the rest on IP networks and the Internet. GSM enjoys the advantage of nearly full coverage and that of network and hardware support. You can have GSM signals nearly anywhere under the sky with even the cheapest of mobile phones. But since the network isn’t primarily IP-based, it is not for VoIP.
Wi-Fi would be nearly perfect had it not had the coverage limitation. It offers tremendous speed and has reasonable hardware support on laptops, handhelds and mobile devices, but it just cannot reach far enough. In a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can’t get the signal beyond a dozen meters or two.
Wi-Fi is free, that is, once you invest on the Wi-Fi-enabled hardware and a router for the hostpot, you use the service with your ADSL line. Thus, you could use VoIP and make free or very cheap local or international phone calls on your mobile device using the Wi-Fi connection, with good call quality. But while being wireless, Wi-Fi isn’t really mobile, as it drops you once you move away from home or the office.
3G came as the champion of mobility, at a time when being connected to the Internet and being able to communicate over IP networks anywhere under the sky were still features of sci-fi movies. 3G offers the possibility of remaining connected through your mobile device on the road, at the seaside, in the bus, in the car, at school, you name the place.
In certain regions and for certain 3G service providers, coverage could be a problem in certain remote areas, but with the increased number of antennas, 3G coverage isn’t a big problem. 3G bandwidth, while not giving lightning speed, isn’t bad. With 384 Kbps, you can talk, chat, check email, and even video-conference and watch TV on your mobile phone or smartphone. However, with the growing number of users over 3G networks, saturation will start being an issue in the near future.
The true problem with 3G is its cost. First, you need to have the hardware, which is a non-negligible upfront investment. Take the iPad as example and compare the price between the 3G version and the non-3G one. There is as such no unlimited plan for 3G. You have flat rates that are expensive, with a traffic threshold. Once this threshold is passed, each megabyte of data can cost the eyes of the head.
3G is therefore not interesting for making VoIP calls, because, added to the call cost, there is the cost of the 3G data plan. Unless you already are using 3G on your mobile device for other purposes, or unless you are a heavy VoIP-communicator, VoIP over 3G isn’t going to make you save a lot. The discussion on VoIP over 3G goes on there.
And then came WiMAX, a 4G wireless standard. It could be described as the WAN version of Wi-Fi. It offers wireless connectivity over large areas, with the convenience of Wi-Fi and the coverage of 3G, but without the financial weight of the latter.
With WiMAX, you can have a flat rate without threshold, so the price is much better than with 3G. However, WiMAX suffers lack of support, both in terms of network deployment and device compatibility. There aren’t enough WiMAX service providers to make the technology that successful, and there are very few mobile devices equipped with WiMAX support. As a result, many believe in the technology for boosting VoIP benefits on mobile phone calls, as do I, but all are waiting for its maturity and global support.
LTE comes as an unexpected but pleasant guest. It is an improvement over WiMAX and 3G. LTE gives peak download rates of 100 Mbps and half that amount for upload. It also offers an improvement on latency. One of the most interesting things about LTE is that it is capable of working on existing technology. This will give it a high penetrating power, higher than that of 3G, WiMAX and Wi-Fi, which all suffer from restricted hardware deployment.
At the time I am writing this, LTE is still in its early stages of development. A handful of leading service providers have invested on it, which is an indication of sure support and popularity.
In theory, LTE seems to be the best wireless standard for making mobile VoIP calls. Assuming it will have good support, penetration and advantageous cost (as all parameters indicate in that direction), LTE will allow VoIP users to benefit the most from VoIP numerous advantages, including that of considerably trimming communication costs.