Thursday, March 19, 2015

LTE + Google Hangouts: Surprisingly Workable

In my previous blog post, I wrote about my experiment using Google Voice, via Google Hangouts, as my main communication line. I previously had a sour experience because T-Mobile's HSPA+ is not too widespread, especially in rural areas. But, even within well-covered areas, my Google Hangouts calls tended to jitter and drop. I was ready to write off the experiment until I switched to LTE.

Here is what I discovered about LTE service in my area. LTE coverage is greater than HSPA by a long shot. There are rural roads where my old phone and mobile hotspot would drop down to 2G or EDGE. Yet, those stretches have LTE service. Beyond that, the service is quite fast and reliable.

When it comes to call quality, LTE proves to be very capable in maintaining my Google Hangout call going with few hiccups. Obviously, carriers are moving towards VoLTE; but, the same technology that makes VoLTE possible also makes other VOIP services viable alternatives.

Wireless carriers aren't about to sell you data-only subscriptions so that you can use another voice service, or are they?

A New Way To Call


Do you know how Google Wear and the Apple Watch are supposed to free you from what photographers call chimping? If you don't know what chimping is, it is when you take a digital photo and immediately view it on the camera display, rather than just keep shooting. You can't chimp with film cameras, by the way.

Well, we tend to chimp with our phones. Phones spend most of their days in peoples' hands whilst we check for text messages, social media updates, look up information, or pretend to be busy so we do not have to talk to people.

Wearable technology is supposed to free us from staring at our hands all day. Google Glass is supposed to allow you to put the phone away and work with your hands free. Google Wear watches are supposed to make it easier to glance at and reply to messages without whipping out your phone.

We are using our phones less and less for voice communication, relying more and more on richer media communications. The dedicated phone circuit is on its way out. But, will carriers still charge you a line access fee when they do away with the circuit and move entirely to VoLTE?

You would feel silly buying a handset for $500 with no dedicated line (because your voice is going via LTE) when you could buy a tablet that does the same thing for $150. Would carriers sell data-only handsets like they sell data-only tablets?

In case you're wondering where this is going, this is where I redeem myself. Until you can buy handsets that have no phone line, meaning that they are data only, we will have to rely on tablets for VOIP service. Tablets are ridiculous as handsets; but, they make for great base stations for Bluetooth headsets.

So, since we now wear our notification devices, and would be foolish to pay more than double for a phone with the same circuitry as a tablet, and pay higher rates for a non-existent dedicated circuit, I see us moving towards headsets and base stations until service providers start to offer data-only subscriptions for handsets.

It makes sense that mobile carriers should move towards data-only subscriptions. On one device, you can have multiple phone numbers. You can have a Skype line, a Google Voice line, and a Truphone line, for example. We could choose phone services like we choose among Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo for email and collaborative work. It's the network effect for phone numbers.

What LTE Does


What LTE does is open up voice services on mobile devices in the same way that DSL and cable opened up the market for voice services like Vonage. You can choose to use the carrier's voice service, or use one from elsewhere.

LTE has the speed, reliability, and coverage to change the voice communication landscape. Handsets are going to have to do some evolving like T-Mobile is doing with WiFi calling. Their WiFi calls, for example, if done on both ends, jump up to high definition audio. Other VOIP services also default to high def audio when both ends are on the same service.

All of these things came to mind once I realized how doable it is to rely on Google Hangouts as a phone service via WiFi and LTE. It's exciting; but, I do not think we are ready to make the leap. The rate plans that carriers offer do not lend themselves to the transition. The rate plans too will have to evolve. We would have to request a standard line as an add-on to our main subscription rather than make it a requirement for handsets.

The best example of this is Republic Wireless. For a meager $5/mo, you get unlimited calling and texting if you provide the WiFi. If you want a backup phone line in case there is no WiFi, then it's $10/mo. It's going to be tough for carriers to unbundle the phone line from data.

My experiment is not over. T-Mobile currently has the fastest LTE network. I'm waiting for Karma to ship their hotspot, which runs on the Sprint LTE network. I wonder what difference network capacity will make on my Google Hangout calls?

Besides Google Hangouts, I am also testing Skype and Truphone for outbound calls. The caller ID shows my Google number, of course. There is no need to confuse call recipients with multiple phone numbers.
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