Monday
Feb132012

The Fight for Voice: The Saga of Telcos vs. OTT players

The golden era for telcos is slowly coming to an end, as they face increasing pressure from OTT (Over the Top) players, like Viber and Skype. Guest author Paul Golding assesses the disruption of Internet players to the telco industry and envisions the future of Voice.

Carriers have built vast empires and generated piles of cash by doing what ‘it says on the tin’: carrying voice. Not long ago, their services were the only way to carry voice over wired or wireless connections. However, the internet changed the game. With affordable and fast enough data connections, plus the freedom to install their own apps in a growing base of smartphones (at around 35% of total handset shipments in Q4), users can pick-and-mix alternative voice solutions, like Skype, Vonage or Viber.

Early Skype users would have experienced the mode of disruption documented by Clayton Christensen in his book Innovator’s Dilemma. Skype provided a low-cost (free) alternative to incumbent solutions, but with a fairly poor user experience characteristic of a disruptive early-stage technology. Sure, VoIP wasn’t that new, but as a downloadable offering to the masses via an ordinary household internet connection, it was.

From Disturbance to Disruption

As Christensen’s theories predicted, carriers mostly saw Skype as a minor disturbance, insufficient to warrant revision of their strategies.  But it marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of communications, which was the unbundling of voice from the carrier network. In other words, consumers can take their data connections from carrier X and their voice services from provider Y: Skype, Viber, or whomever. The industry refers to these unbundled services as “Over The Top” (OTT) solutions.

However, the minor disturbance has become, well – disturbing – at least to some carriers. The modes of disruption have been aided by several key trends, in no particular order:

  1. Open (enough) device operating systems – Android and iOS
  2. More afforable data tariffs and speedier internet connections
  3. Dramatic lowering of barriers to entry for internet platforms of all kinds
  4. Consumer behavioural changes
  5. Increase in carrier inertia preventing timely responses to OTT threats

These trends, and more, are covered extensively in my new book “Connected Services,” which, like this blog post, I wrote using my own “notes from the field” in the last 21 years of working in mobile generally, but the last 7 years specifically trying to evangelize Web paradigms to the boards and senior management of various carriers.

Read the article in its entirety here.

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