Exciting times ahead for mobile voice

When it comes to the core mobile services available to consumers, it is messaging that has been stealing the limelight of recent years. Driven by a number of exciting over-the-top (OTT) players, such as WhatsApp, BBM and Skype, there has been a lot of innovation on the messaging front. The voice market, on the other hand, has been much more static and offers very little difference in functionality to what it did a decade previously. However, the voice calling market looks set to undergo a range of exciting developments with mobile operators and OTT players alike, aiming to breathe life into mobiles most pervasive service.

Many OTT players are now becoming increasingly active in the voice market space. WhatsApp, for example (following its acquisition by Facebook) announced it will soon be offering a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service to its 450million subscribers. Handled over an internet connection, VoIP services are generally free to consumers and offer a number of immediate benefits over traditional voice calling, including the ability to speak to more than one person at a time, video calling features and often better voice quality.

Now that WhatsApp has set out its intentions for the voice market, we can expect this to drive the competition between other VoIP providers like Skype and Viber. Given the innovative nature of these OTT providers, we are likely to see a range of new voice services being created as they battle it out for dominance of market share.

For mobile operators the need to enhance their voice proposition is vital. Their voice service revenues continue to decline as consumers continue to adopt OTT voice applications. Operators are looking to change their fortunes through the migration to Long Term Evolution (LTE), a service exclusive to mobile operators.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is being billed as the next inception of voice. Similar to VoIP, VoLTE also carries mobile voice and video calls over internet protocol, but relies on mobile operators’ IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and radio access network to provide quality of service for the call.

VoLTE is beginning to gain momentum, following a successful impact in South Korea, and it is now being developed and launched by operators globally. This month, AT&T, HKT and NTT Domoco, have all announced plans to roll-out VoLTE services. EE announced last year that it is conducting trials on VoLTE services in the UK, and it too is likely be rolled out here within the next year or so.

VoLTE promises to offer unique advantages in sound quality, improved battery life on mobile devices and a better overall user experience by transferring voice services over a single LTE radio interface. Another key feature that is heavily associated with VoLTE is HD Voice, which is likely to be offered for free by mobile operators in a bid to provide the ‘best voice experience’. Some mobile operators will also use VoLTE as an opportunity to launch voice services that go beyond the vanilla; offering subscribers a unique set of functionality to their voice services.

NSN Smart labs recently conducted tests between VoIP and VoLTE, revealing that VoLTE outperforms VoIP on a number of KPIs including; battery power life, mouth-to-ear delay and data usage. This suggests that the mobile operators may have an advantage over the OTT players in their potential to launch the next ‘must-have’ voice solution. However, given mobile operators reputation as less than rapid innovators, it is yet to see whether they will take this opportunity to maintain their position as a leader in voice.

Either way, it is an exciting time for the voice market, and consumers can expect a number of changes to their traditional voice services. VoLTE and VoIP in particular are two key technologies that will enable voice service providers to reinvigorate the mobile voice calls as we know them.

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