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Monday, May 31, 2010

VoIPo3G becoming a reality. Remember, you read it here first....

Fascinating post by Andy Abramson about various experiences with Skype over 3G running on the iPhone.

Coupled with efforts by various other VoIP players - and the evolution of assorted voice-on-LTE advocates, it certainly looks as though VoIPo3G (or VoIPo4G if you buy into the marketing guff around LTE) is becoming much more feasible and important.

I've noticed a few of my rival analyst firms putting out forecasts and comments recently, as if this was somehow new and unexpected.

Readers of this blog, and customers of Disruptive Analysis' reports will have seen this coming more than two years ago (I'm pretty sure that I coined the term VoIPo3G myself - see the Google search results here)

I published a research report at the end of 2007 which included a full analysis of what was likely to occur - as well as the probable use cases and partnerships that could/should arise. I predicted up to 255m active users of VoIPo3G by the end of 2012. Not all of these would be for "primary telephony" - the majority would be using VoIP as an adjunct to ordinary full operator voice service.

Now, some things I expected in the report haven't unfolded quite the way I expected at the time I wrote the report:

- HSUPA has been slower to be rolled out in devices than I predicted, which has limited VoIP quality
- Apple and Google have de-railed the 2007 smartphone dominance of Symbian and Microsoft, sending some of the VoIP plans to the drawing board, especially as Apple's deals with telcos prohibited VoIPo3G
- Laptop mobile broadband has grown very swiftly, often used as a direct substitute for fixed broadband, and used with various apps including VoIP
- LTE and WiMAX have rolled out more slowly, voice-over-LTE has been standardised more slowly than anticipated.
- UMB disappeared from radar
- Operators have (generally) not followed my recommendation to experiment with VoIP on HSPA/HSPA+ before committing to it with LTE. This is a strategic error in my view.

Nevertheless, the idea of partnership between operators and Internet VoIP providers has seemed prescient - especially given the Verizon/Skype and Telefonica/Jajah tie-ups. It will be interesting to hear if Andy's theory about close Apple/Skype collaboration is true - and if AT&T and other operators have some indirect involvement as well.

It's about time I did a full reassessment of the mobile VoIP space - I've been covering it since 2001 and have been pretty on-track thus far.

Watch this space.

(If any historians of telecoms strategy and forecasting would like to get the original report, let me know & I'll cut you a very good deal)


John Hamill said...

Hi Dean,

Do you see VoIPo3G being primarily about international calls? Data roaming tariffs may still make this an expensive option while abroad. For national calls, most smartphone users will have generous bundles of GSM minutes. I'm not sure how much cost benefit most users will see in using Skype-Out over 3G from a smartphone as compared to just placing a GSM call. However, with international calling rates still extortionate (almost €2 per minute to call a fixed line in Oz on O2-IE) the benefit seems to be most prominent for these use cases.


Dean Bubley said...

Hi John

I see some potential short-term opportunities for domestic-originated outbound VoIPo3G calls, yes.

That said, I think that's a temporary arbitrage opportunity - it's quite easy for any operator to bundle international minutes into normal voice plans, similar to many fixed-voice and VoIP plans. Some already do this - especially various of the MVNOs.

Also, many international calls are pre-planned (eg conference calls, weekly calls to Granny in Australia etc) and are often easier to do over WiFi.

I expect to see a bunch of new use cases for VoIPo3G which are not "phone calls" in the traditional sense, but embedded in apps of social-networking scenarios.

Voice is much more than the 100-year old product of Person A calls Person B telephony.


John Hamill said...

Hi Dean,

Very interesting ... thanks for this! I agree that VoIPo3G would not be so interesting if it was just about price. Arguing over the cost of a commodity that is tending towards zero in price seems like tough place to be in.

I agree also that making voice calls more valuable is a more interesting space. My company has recently signed our first contracts for our product and we plan to launch some services in this area later this calendar year. Admittedly it is in a slightly different domain ... operator VoIP clients for laptop users bundled with mobile broadband dongles. It's nice that they can use their broadband user base to win voice traffic from people with a competitor's mobile phone ... but I think the larger part of the business case derives from integrating other Internet resources with the voice experience.

I'll look forward to listening to what your disruptive view of the services is!