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T-Mobile to require VoLTE-compatible handsets starting next year

The Magenta Network says customers will need to have VoLTE-capable phones after January 2021.

The Magenta Network says customers will need to have VoLTE-capable phones after January 2021.

T-Mobile will require new and current customers to use VoLTE-capable devices at the start of next year, according to a report.

The website Android Police obtained and published an internal company document that said T-Mobile would shift new and current customers onto its 4G LTE and 5G networks over the next few months.

Starting August 4, T-Mobile will refuse to activate phones that are not capable of making cellular phone calls over the company’s LTE network, a feature known as Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE). The condition applies even if a device is otherwise capable of accessing T-Mobile’s LTE data network.

The internal document said retail and customer support employees should direct new customers to choose from a phone sold by T-Mobile, all of which are VoLTE compatible.

Current customers who use non-VoLTE capable phones will still be able to use their device until January 2021, at which point they too will be asked to upgrade.

Most phones sold over the last five years are capable of making VoLTE calls, including flagship manufactured by Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony. But some budget phones sold in recent years may not have the feature, including those sold under the Chinese brands Huawei and Xiaomi — starting next year, those phones will have to be upgraded if customers want to continue to use T-Mobile’s network.

The VoLTE condition will also apply to customers of MetroPCS, a mobile virtual network opreator (MVNO) acquired by T-Mobile in 2013. Less clear is if T-Mobile will impose the same requirement on other companies like Ting, Straight Talk and Mint who use the company’s network. It was also not clear if T-Mobile would require Sprint customers use VoLTE-capable devices after 2021. T-Mobile acquired Sprint earlier this year.

T-Mobile’s decision to push customers onto its 4G LTE and 5G networks is not unusual. Rival wireless company AT&T unveiled similar plans several years ago as it sought to sunset its older 3G wireless technology. Customers were recently told they would need to upgrade their phones to VoLTE-capable devices if they wanted to continue using AT&T’s network. AT&T customers have until February 2020 to upgrade if their phones don’t support VoLTE.

By contrast, T-Mobile‘s plans are more ambitious, with the company providing a much-shorter window of time to upgrade or switch carriers.

In a statement, T-Mobile said the majority of its customers already have VoLTE-capable devices.

“We’re making great progress building a truly transformative nationwide 5G network. As part of that, we will be phasing out some older technologies over time to free up even more capacity for LTE and 5G,” the statement said. “In preparation for that and to give customers the best experience, those activating new lines at T-Mobile will need a VoLTE capable device, which is all we’ve offered for years now and represents the overwhelming majority of devices on the network.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).