Saved by the Cell

As much as everyone hates, complains about, and tries to avoid phone calls, they’re an inevitable fact of life that won’t go away for a very long time. They also use incredibly outdated technology.

The routers, switches and transmission towers that let us call each other’s cell phones are pretty much the same setup that sent Zach Morris’ phone calls out from him super sweet brick phone back in 1992. The technology that has changed of course is everything else on the phone – data, apps, connectivity and the rest – that has changed society along with it.

But even the decades-old phone call is in for an upgrade. Verizon has been working on a new system it calls “high-definition voice service” on a Voice over LTE (VoLTE) network. This is, of course, just a marketing term for a much simpler technology: phone calls over the internet, in this case a phone’s LTE data. If you’ve used Skype or Google Voice for phone calls, or made a phone call at any modern office you’ve used VoIP, which is essentially the same technology. Verizon’s service just ports that over for mobile usage. The company has also added in some bells and whistles like a video call service and the “high definition” veneer because, you know, always be selling.

What’s most interesting, however, is not Verizon’s spin on the technology but that the company is the first of the major telcos to start digging the grave for voice plans, which are perhaps the last relic of the pre-smartphone era. Think about shopping for a phone plan pre-2007. There was a pretty simple equation: how many minutes can I get for my dollar? Coverage and texting were also mitigating factors, but minutes mattered most.

Nowadays, companies practically give voice minutes away because people want data, and that’s where service providers can make the most money. And you can bet your last dollar that those companies aren’t going to give up on a cash cow until they’ve milked every cent from it, so the simple fact that Verizon has even put a replacement product out on the market is telling. It didn’t take a genius tech soothsayer to know that data mattered most or that soon enough we’ll all be making our phone calls over the internet rather than radio towers, but it’s interesting to see it finally happening.

There’s still a few wrinkles left to iron out, like interoperability between providers, but that will be figured out quickly. So, for now, pour one out for the old-fashioned cell phone call – scratchy, muffled sound, dropped calls and all – and get ready for phone calls in shocking, crystal-clear hi-def. It’ll be … well, pretty much the same as you’re used to with every other phone you use. Even Zack Morris is on board.