AT&T could launch a Voice over LTE-capable smartphone as early as this year, according to one executive from the carrier.

AT&T Labs President Krish Prabhu said during a keynote at the PCIA wireless infrastructure conference in Florida that there "might be a VoLTE-compliant device for the holidays this year," Fierce Wireless reported today.

He added that AT&T is testing the network upgrade that will enable VoLTE "right now," although a full, commercial VoLTE launch won't occur until 2014.

In other words, change may be coming slowly - but it appears it really is coming.

A painless transition

There's no word yet on what AT&T's first VoLTE-compatible phone will be. We asked the carrier if it had more to share, and will update this story if and when we hear back.

Voice over LTE will provide HD call quality, but only if both parties on the call are using VoLTE phones, Prabhu said.

The transition should be painless, as new phones will release with VoLTE support built in and existing 4G LTE networks will be upgraded gradually.

The competition

Samsung announced in August that new Galaxy S3 handsets will come with VoLTE out of the box, starting in Korea.

Meanwhile Verizon is expected to roll out its own VoLTE service and handsets this year as well.

Verizon was testing VoLTE deployment as early as a year ago, when it was bragging about hitting its 400th LTE market.

According to Fierce Wireless, Verizon's first Voice over LTE phone will launch this year, with the service launching commercially in the first half of next year, much like AT&T.