Yesterday I read this Wired article on the "death of the phone call" - essentially pointing out that voice telephony is becoming increasingly sidelined in favour of other modes of communication, many of them asynchronous (SMS, Facebook etc).
This sort of flies in the face of my historical stance that voice is the forgotten saviour of the telecoms industry - overlooked, underestimated and shamefully sidelined in terms of product development. I've agreed with others - my associates at Telco 2.0, visionaries like Martin Geddes and all my friends in the VoIP community - that, surely, there must be a pot of gold left in telephony if only we can de-construct it and make it fit better with personal behaviour or companies' business processes.
Surely, there is value beyond the ever-falling per minute price? Clever voicemail or push voice messaging, HD voice, all manner of web- and cloud-based voice mashups.
I'm beginning to have doubts about this. What if the simple fact is that despite all that innovation, we're collectively coming to realise we don't like talking on the phone that much after all? Especially when we've got an ever-expanding array of tools that enable specific interactions to proceed much more smoothly and with less stress.
That doesn't mean we won't still want to have gossips with friends, chats with family or conference calls with clients. But for other things, especially short "transactions" ("Running 5 mins late, see you at the pub, mine's a lager"), we increasingly prefer modes that have less emotional investment or concentration, even if it takes longer to compose an SMS.
I think this may also mean we over-estimate the inherent value of voice when we calculate telecoms market statistics. It is common to see mobile revenues reported by carriers as split something like:
- Non-messaging data
But actually, the amount that gets classified as "voice" also includes all (I think - anyone have a reference to the accounting standards?) of the payback of handset subsidy, and also implicitly the "line rental" which is also used for the SMS and data. That's the fee for occupying a number, a "slot" on the HLR, the cost of administering my billing record and so on.
If we start to value voice less, and SMS and Internet/app access more, shouldn't we re-classify the numbers to reflect this? I'm about at the point where I'd rather have just SMS rather than voice, if I could only pick one.
So, maybe my £45 a month contract ought to be split down as:
£10 - "access fee"
£15 - subsidy repayment
£10 - data [I use maybe 600MB / month]
£6 - SMS [perhaps 300 or so / month]
£4 - voice calls [250 outbound minutes]
Whereas at the moment, the accounts would likely show that as £29 voice, £6 messaging and £10 for data.
Another way might be to re-assign the subsidy and access fee elements in proportion with the other three components, so that the £25 is split in proportion 10/6/4 and reassigned, which would give:
£22.50 data [edit: I'd roughly assign this as £8 email, £5 Facebook, £3 Google search & £4 general web browsing and £2.50 other apps' data use. £zero for downloads & app purchases]
I'm not really close enough to the accountancy & auditing side of mobile to understand the nuances of reporting, but the exercise (and the Wired article) has got me wondering if all our assertions about "80% of value is still voice" aren't entirely representative of reality. And if that's the case, it makes it even more ridiculous if we are engineering all future networks with the old "voice comes first" mentality.
Edit - I should point out that most of my longer voice calls & conference calls are done from my landline or PC via Skype/SkypeOut. Also, as I don't work for a large company I don't have "internal" calls with colleagues.
Thinking through this a bit more, the argument I have is that it is *assumed* that people are "voice-primary" in allocating revenues that should really attributable to a broader blend of voice/messaging/data. I'm pretty certain that a good chunk of post-paid mobile contract fees are wrongly considered as voice on this basis, given the growing proportion of people who are "data primary" or "SMS primary". For prepaid, it's generally much easier to allocate revenues as they tend to be per-use (except for the "bundle" prepaid accounts popular with some operators in markets like the US)