5 Dec 2006

VoIP Episode 8: The future of mobile VoIP

I'm linking to an article by Malik Kamal-Saadi on telecoms.com because it has a very good treatment of the subject and in essence summarises most of the VoIP/cellular strategic issues I've touched upon in my previous posts. (I don't know why they did not acknowledge the author's contribution on the telecoms.com site. I've received the written report which clearly shows his name).

One of the interesting points that Malik talks about is the high performance requirements of VoIP cellular handsets. Incidentally, both the new 3X series phones offered by Hutchinson 3 in UK (Nokia N73 and Sony Ericsson W950i walkman) can run a Skype client. Nevertheless there is no doubt that having to support HSDPA/HSUPA with all the R6 and R7 enhancements together with enough processing power to support VoIP calls will definitely be a challenge for UE chip makers and vendors alike.

The threat of VoIP to traditional mobile voice revenue may be an inevitable outcome. In my opinion, VoIP's threat is starting to materialise when competing against the roaming chunk of the voice revenue, where business people for instance find cheap or free WiFi networks to camp on and make international VoIP calls. Apart from that, it does not seem that VoIP is giving operators much worry. Three for example has kept the traditional (line rental) pricing schemes, and introduced the X-series broadband package which the user has to pay for extra. The package already includes a large number of free minutes and TXT allowance. It does seem to me that Three has found a clever way to push their ARPU up without cannibalising their existing revenue, at least in the short term.

One of the barriers of VoIP over cellular is its lack of seamlessness. Not any user will appreciate that to run a VoIP call you have to start a different application than the usual button pressing you do when you call someone the usual way. The fact that the voice call is carried over IP should be transparent to the end user. Handset user interface software has to integrate both experiences in one unified package to give the end user the seamless feel. To make an analogy, just like the misconception that mobile Email is simply a pop3 client on your handset disregards usability issues and user experience, so does the flawed idea that mobile VoIP is simply a Skype or Vonage client.

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