On the surface, it may sound wildly contradictory, but as it turns out, telecommunications firms are getting some serious benefit when it comes to (VoIP) service. This leads some to wonder just how such a thing can be; after all, this is the technology that's pretty much killing the voice and text data part of the mobile sector, leaving huge chunks of infrastructure all dressed up with nowhere to go. But with the right strategy—which many telcos seem to be adopting—there's some substantial benefit to be had, though it may not drift down to the users' level.
Price declines in the mobile arena have been something of a dark fact of life, by some reports, for the better part of two decades as IP-based competition has stepped up its capabilities, making it easier to use and more accessible. A recent study from Telegeography notes that global voice traffic is up a mere five percent for 2012, with TDM-based voice up just under three percent. The two together make up two thirds—66 percent—of total voice minutes, and VoIP takes up the rest, having increased fully 25 percent in the same interval. The wholesale market, meanwhile, is in a likewise bind, with carrier-to-carrier traffic up fully 30 percent, but revenues holding steady at $13.2 billion. But with revenues holding stable for a long period, there's an increased chance of said revenues falling off.
That's at least part of why, in some cases, carriers are turning to VoIP as a way to save money. Specifically, zero-rated VoIP, which is part of a set of strategies like consolidations and divesting low-margin business. Basically, carriers appear to be using VoIP as a kind of last-ditch survival strategy, bringing in the cost savings as a way to keep carriers afloat and maximize cash flow in the short term. VoIP would indeed kill the old business model, and the new business model leaves carriers somewhat out in the cold. So carriers are left to use that which would kill the industry in a bid to buy time.
Carriers in South Africa, according to reports, are embracing VoIP on a huge scale, including operators like Telkom, who not only cut 240 multi-service access nodes, but not long after, fired up its IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) network. Further, Telkom reportedly plans to continue spending on its IP network, and fairly heavily as well.
But what's particularly noteworthy here is that Telkom—and those like it—aren't in any rush to offer VoIP service to the customer base. As noted before, it's with good reason; if such a prospect were to happen, it would hasten the decline for the carriers. Right now, somewhere around a billion people are using mobile VoIP service, but those numbers should, disturbingly, be higher. Mobile providers are holding back in a bid to buy time and salvage the current business model rather than stepping forward.
The issue of mobile VoIP may well make the point moot to begin with. The numbers are already on the decline. Third-party applications make VoIP available to anyone with a mobile phone and a Wi-Fi connection on hand. Throw in the growth of new technologies like Web-based real time communications (WebRTC) that allow for voice and video calling directly from a Web browser and VoIP looks less like a fun toy and more like the future, regardless of what mobile providers think. VoIP means big change, but whether it's useful change or destructive change depends on the attitude toward it one takes.