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Mobile VoIP, the new blue hue?

I got up yesterday morning to the announcement that Janice was going to paint the family room.  My typically male response was, "Why? I like the paint in the family room."  After all, there was no structural or mechanical reason to change the paint…   Within a very short time it was clear that I wasn't going to dissuade her.  She was tired of the old paint job, and by late in the afternoon our walls were sporting a new blue hue.

This morning my feed reader surfaced a piece from Omfut's Latest Geek Stuff titled Mobile VoIP, Who Will Win.  He's speculating about operator reaction to VoIP on 3G and WiFi.  My first thought? For most people, isn't VoIP just the "new blue hue" on mobile?   On POTS, VoIP was a major disruptor, shaking up moribund incumbents grown fat on comfortable monopoly profits.  VoIP did what regulators couldn't do, which was to bring competition and new services to the landline space. Vonage, for instance, is the reason that today I can buy a $25/month unlimited calling plan from Bell Canada.   On mobile, however, most jurisdictions have multiple competing service providers.  Prices are already falling in most of the world (even Canada, it seems), and innovative services and devices are being delivered on a constant basis.  Becuase of a competitive market, VoIP on mobile is different from VoIP on POTS. 

Omfut cites Mig33, Truphone, and Fring in his piece, to which I will add TalkPlus and MobiVox.  None of these are pure VoIP plays.  Mig33, for example, is a social network with VoIP.  MobiVox is a voice activated personal assistant, plus VoIP.  The value is in the application, and tellingly none of these are implementing VoIP on 3G.  It's all VoIP on the back end.  With the exception of Truphone, which consumes no minutes on the handset when used in WiFi mode, all of these applications work in concert with the carrier, rather than against the carrier.

As a consumer, I'm not so sure I care about VoIP on the handset. What I do care about, however, is new services.  That's where mobile VoIP will have an impact.  That's where the mobile carriers and mobile VoIP players are getting it right, and where Vonage and the now defunct SunRocket got it so horribly wrong.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • omfut November 26, 2007, 8:41 pm

    Alec:
    First of all, congratulation’s on your funding. Also, Thanks for linking my post.
    Wanted to clarify couple of things here:
    1) fring and truphone use wireless data network for the originating leg of the voice call. In an ideal scenario, users would be charged for all outgoing call from mobile that uses operators TDM network. So if u look at these clients, they actually use either wifi or wireless data bandwidth for the originating leg of the call. And for the terminating leg, these startups may charge the user based on the type of contact the user is trying to call. If the user tries to call a contact number that belongs to a different country or state, than the call is actually terminated from the third-party company’s gateway switch bypassing completely the operator network. So my point is -this is going to drain the operator’s voice revenue. Imagine a high power user who uses more anytime voice minutes than the regular per month bucket, for every extra minute he uses, operators charges him for that. With an unlimited data plan or wifi, he could save those extra dollars being paid to the operators. Off course, this depends on the charging model of these independent startups.
    Operators have built the wireless data backbone to carry VAS services and not voice traffic. If voice traffic is carried using this backbone, then it’s going against the operator and not in concert with the operator.
    2) I guess talkplus and mobivox don’t use wireless data backbone for voice traffic originated from mobile. It’s more like a traditional voice calling from mobile, except that the call is connected to their local switch.

  • Alec November 27, 2007, 3:56 am

    Hi Omfut,

    I agree that the user who makes outgoing calls on WiFi will drain profits from the operator for sure. The same thing is true for the high volume voice user who takes advantage of "all you can eat" plans. For example, a good friend of mine has a 3 hour commute every day, and with early unlimited evenings and weekends (a small extra charge from Bell Canada), he makes all of his west coast calls from the car. He regularly uses 3,000 minutes per month during his unlimited evenings.

    My only point is that voice is getting more and more competitive on mobile all the time. We're seeing (in the US) the emergence of flat rate plans, for example. Because of competitive pressure, I don't think the operators are ever going to pay attention to the Truphones of the world. They're too busy wondering how to get a leg up on the guy with the 3G license who's trying to steal their customers en masse!

  • Mum November 27, 2007, 8:05 am

    Can't wait to see the new blue walls!

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