Verizon nears September launch of voice over LTE in Alaska

After $115 million and several years of work, Verizon Wireless is nearing the complete launch of its Alaska network.

The company has not yet provided a date for when it will open stores in Alaska or turn on its new voice network, except that it will likely occur sometime in September.

When the service is turned on, Verizon will be launching a complete LTE — or long term evolution — network, including voice over LTE service, or VoLTE.

Verizon will launch VoLTE nationwide in September, although the exact date is not available either. By using voice over LTE rather than traditional cell service, the company will debut its new “Advance Calling” features, including high-definition voice calls and video calls, both of which work on the company’s regular data network and compatible phones, without needing an additional app. With VoLTE, the phones use data to send calls, enabling them to have better clarity.

Through the second quarter of 2014, Verizon has spent about $115 million on its Alaska network, according to Verizon Alaska Vice President Demian Voiles.

Voiles said the company purchased spectrum in Alaska in 2010, and began work on the network the next year. This year, the company has had hundreds of employees testing the network in Alaska, and thousands testing it nationwide.

“This is a technology that has been years in the making,” said Scott Charlston, Verizon’s public relations manager.

The Alaska network is the first place Verizon has built a complete 4G LTE network from scratch rather than upgrading legacy networks, Voiles said. And customers here will get the newest service alongside those in the Lower 48.

“I like to look at this as Alaskans get to be on the cutting edge, finally,” Voiles said.

The network includes the Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna, Copper River Valley, Prince William Sound, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Ketchikan areas, with some of those areas built out by Verizon’s partners — Matanuska Telephone Association, Copper Valley Telecom and Ketchikan Public Utilities. The company is exploring options for expanding to the Kenai, according to Charlston.

Voiles said the company is also looking at opportunities to expand into rural Alaska, but middle mile connectivity is the major challenge for that work.

Until the launch, Verizon customers in Alaska access Verizon’s network for data services, but roam on other networks for voice calls.

Verizon demoed the new Advanced Calling during an Aug. 25 press event in Anchorage.

For the new calling features to work, both the person making the call and the person receiving it must be on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

If, for instance, a person is driving and leaves the 4G LTE network, the LTE call will end and the person would have to redial. Coming onto the network, calls will not drop, although they won’t upgrade to VoLTE automatically.

Compatible phones will be needed to access the new calling features. Voiles could not provide the number of options customers will have, but said the full line-up will be available in the coming weeks, when the launch is announced.

11/22/2016 - 3:27pm