While we've seen a lot of noise about LTE "committments" and assorted trials and early rollouts, I remain unconvinced that we'll see much adoption before 2013, or for truly mobile devices (ie phone-type products) before 2015.
Given the huge diversity frequency bands, the need for extensive work on cost-optimisation and performance-tuning of silicon, as well as the need for broad deployment both outdoor and in, the probability of LTE powering "primary mobile telephony" before mid-decade seems slim, especially for mid-tier devices needed to get hundreds of millions or billions converted from 2G/3G.
What I'm uncertain about is whether this, ultimately, helps or harms the case for mobile IMS and solutions like VoLTE. On one hand, it allows the technology to mature and equipment prices to fall. But on the other hand, it gives huge opportunity for disruptive rivals to become entrenched.
The big risk I see is that something like Skype, Google Voice - or perhaps a still-unlaunched FacePhone, iTalk or OviVoIP - performs a classic "move from an adjacent market" before IMS-VoLTE becomes a real option.
Thinking through the usual pattern of IP-style application disruption, I'd expect to see something "low quality and niche" turn into "good enough" and then morph into "de facto standard".... rather than have some new and bulletproof "official standard" parachuted onto a willing audience in a single swoop.
One thing is certain - you can bet that people on the small new Nordic LTE networks are *already* playing with Skype. You can bet that someone loads up Google Voice on Day 1 of Verizon's LTE launch. DoCoMo might be a special case, but let's see how that goes at the time.
Yes, there will be problems. It probably won't do decent roaming, or properly handle emergency calls, will have poor SMS integration and may well drop at network handovers. But if it's got some other way of introducing "coolness" and virality, people won't care.
To me, this suggests that the IMS-VoLTE guys need to find ways to get their solution out "in beta" immediately, or at least in the next 6-12 months. Ideally with some "cool hooks" as well. Doesn't matter if it's a cludge. Doesn't matter if it doesn't have IMS-based QoS or even use all the core bits of IMS like HSS. Run it off a spreadsheet if you need to. Hell, maybe just rebadge a standard SIP client as "Pre-VoLTE" or something, and leave the proper thing to the version 3 update. Full interoperability can wait too.
In other words... I think there has to be operator-branded, imperfect VoIP (with features to make up for it) ready to go on LTE devices from launch. Might be "over the top" across operator brands, or "through the middle" from the network owner. Whether to extend it down to HSPA devices as well is a more tricky decision, but one I'd probably recommend as well.
But the bottom line is to try to get as many of early LTE adopters on board ASAP, gain experience, pick off the all-important social influencers and communications "hubs", open up some APIs for developers - and then use the advantages of being a standard as a differentiator later.
Repeating the classic telco mistake of going for interoperability first, finding the politically-expedient lowest common denominator, being a "late follower" in terms of service launch, risks being yet another failure to learn from experience.
As a central planning scenario, VoLTE advocates - until we get to mid-tier LTE phones with native VoLTE clients, expect 100% of LTE users to have already made a VoIP call with a 3rd party solution before yours. So, how will you get them to switch?