If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. That's the strong message coming independently from several market research companies in recent days. They are telling mobile operators to accept the fact that consumers are demanding mobile VoIP services. So, they say, "Find a way to put VoIP into the mobile services business model and make the best and most of it." The common theme is that it's in the operators’ best interests to do so. It's "get real time" writes Peggy Albright.
That message came this week from Juniper Research, which forecast the number of mobile VoIP users will exceed 100 million by 2012. Last week it was Frost & Sullivan putting the pressure on mobile operators when it predicted that mobile VoIP will lead to a US$29.57 billion market by 2015. Days before that, Ovum Research was making the same point. It pushed operators to accept mobile VoIP, saying that blocking it is like trying to control the tides.
“Implemented well, VoIP can attract new users, reduce churn, or even encourage data plan uptake,” Ovum insisted.
Frost & Sullivan also urged operators to view the situation as an opportunity rather than a threat. It advised operators to take advantage of their networks and apply context-based information about the user and other features in conjunction with VoIP to create innovative services that VoIP vendors might not be able to emulate.
VoIP has made inroads in the mobile industry mostly through third-party applications offered for smartphones like the Apple iPhone, allowing access to the service either Wi-Fi or the cellular network.
However, most "traditional" mobile operators remain very wary(and scared) of VoIP. The early adopters include 3 UK, which has offered Skype for some time and Verizon Wireless in the US, that has been offering Skype calling and instant messaging features on certain smartphones since April, although the calls actually run on Verizon’s voice network rather than its data network.
More recently, Clearwire in the US has decided to support voice services from third-party VoIP providers on its network and, in time, perhaps to offer its own nationwide mobile VoIP service on its WiMAX network.
But such operators are the exception rather than the rule. For example, Frost & Sullivan finds that 60 to 70 per cent of the major European mobile operators either prohibit or restrict the use of VoIP over their popular mobile broadband data plans.
Ovum observes that, at best, operators “offer special VoIP tariffs to avoid regulator attention, but they are not viable for end users.” To the operators’ detriment, it adds it finds “these approaches merely garner negative publicity from vocal early adopters demanding access.”
The Frost & Sullivan report says that by the end of 2008, some $605.8 million in revenues from mobile VoIP were generated in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Flat rate mobile data pricing, rapid adoption of smartphones and high-speed mobile broadband availability have spurred the adoption.
For obvious reasons, mobile operators have been reluctant to offer VoIP services that could potentially cannibalise their traditional voice services. Ovum expects operators will finally loosen-up on this when they have all-IP networks in place and no longer need their circuit-switched systems that today carry voice traffic.
Meanwhile consumer demand for VoIP services continues to rise and as another research report published this morning shows, globally, a mere 7 per cent of mobile subscribers have any form of brand loyalty to their service providers. In other words, if they perceive a better deal elsewhere (like VoIP) they'll churn away to another provider as soon as their contracts expire. Mobile operators please note and do something - or pay the price.
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