In the 4G era, the cellular industry prioritized the introduction of higher-speed data transfers over the updating of traditional phone calls, resulting in comparatively late and under-coordinated launches of VoLTE (Voice over LTE) telephony services. Given the global spread of 5G networks and devices, the same scenario appears to be emerging again: Chinese phone maker Oppo announced today that it is the first mobile phone brand to support Voice over New Radio (VoNR), an expanded standard for 5G video and voice calls.
In development, Oppo phones with MediaTek's Dimensity 1000L chips will make VoNR calls when connected through Ericsson's cellular tower hardware. Oppo said it had successfully tested the chips with modified commercial smartphone designs and a standalone 5G network from Ericsson in Stockholm and “almost instantly” connected for a voice call before switching to high-resolution video calls “with a single keystroke”.
VoNR calls promise to improve the sound quality of voice calls, the image quality of video calls and latency across the board, thereby reducing the gap between sending and receiving responses. In addition to aesthetic considerations, Oppo notes that direct 5G VoNR communication is also more secure than current video conferencing solutions because "obviously fewer agents" than Zoom, Skype or others are used to connect people for video chats.
Several major 5G chip makers have worked on VoNR support, but their rollout timing is not clear. Huawei announced last May that it had successfully completed the world's first VoNR call with a 5G standalone network and two commercial 5G phones, but characterized the development as a test. Qualcomm has promised that its third generation 5G modem, the Snapdragon X60, will support VoNR for unspecified devices that will be introduced in and after early 2021
Despite the current demand for better and more secure telephony, it remains to be seen whether and where Oppo's 5G performance will actually have an impact. The company's VoNR offering will initially depend on MediaTek Dimensity 1000-series (and possibly 800-series) chips, compatible Ericsson 5G towers, and the proliferation of Oppo 5G phones, which are up to 1% compared to all 5G smartphones Oppos' worldwide smartphone market share was estimated at around 9%. The effects may first be felt in China, where its devices account for almost 20% of local sales and where independent 5G networks go online quickly.