This is going to be a brief departure from the world of literature, prompted by the adverts currently running for the Samsung Galaxy Note – ‘ the best of a smartphone and a tablet’. Now, I haven’t tried the device myself but I’m willing to bet a fair amount that, whilst it may be great at tablet stuff, games, music, video and the like, it will be pretty rubbish at actually making calls. You may have noticed that phones’ ability to act as, well, phones has declined pretty dramatically over the last few years. There’s two very understandable reasons for this.

The first is a question of money. Not that many years ago, voice made up 90% of telephony traffic. Now it makes up 3%. But the actual volume of voice traffic hasn’t changed at all. What has changed is the explosion of data. Data is relatively expensive for the operators to run, but it’s also where they claw back their money from the customer and attract new customers, so that’s where their focus has been for the last few years. Handsets have been all about data, and voice has suffered as a result. My super-duper HTC smartphone will let me write a book, watch YouTube or play a game of chess during my commute, but I can’t call my mum and expect to hear more than one word in five.

The second reason is a question of technology. In order to handle this data explosion, the operators are (slowly) upgrading their networks to data-specific tech called LTE, or Long Term Evolution. Yeah, I know, it’s a crap acronym. But there’s been a bit of an oversight. LTE is perfect for handling data, but it isn’t configured to carry voice traffic at all. Operators are already starting to roll out these new LTE networks without a solution for VOLTE (Voice Over LTE) in place, which means either that they’re running the voice traffic over a system not designed for it (leading to poor quality) or the voice traffic is falling back on the older technology (which hasn’t been updated).

Obviously that’s a massively simplified version, and I’m sure people will have counter arguments or more detailed corrections. But that, in a nutshell, is how Angry Birds killed the telephone call.

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