This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of NGN.
New smartphone introductions seem to happen every week, with advanced capabilities that support thousands of applications, speed up Internet access, and even improve delivery of streaming video. It’s now reasonable to question whether the primary purpose of these devices is to make phone calls. So what does this mean for mobile service providers? Is voice service as we know it a thing of the past? Will over-the-top applications using VoIP technology over commodity mobile broadband relegate circuit-switched mobile voice to an exhibit in the Smithsonian?
Analytics Research forecasts that mobile phone data traffic will increase tenfold through 2015, and this is expected to continue throughout this decade. After years of investment, the reality is that mobile broadband networks are here and growing in number. Mobile service providers are now starting the next generation investment cycle and are on a path to deliver higher data throughput while optimizing the usage of available wireless radio spectrum.They are deploying 4G networks to deliver higher speed data services than those available on 3G networks, and the focus of 4G marketing is squarely on faster data access and not voice. LTE (News - Alert) is a 4G technology that will be built on an IMS service delivery network – it leaves behind legacy circuit switching for all-IP networks encompassing all services – data, voice and video.
SIP is the next-generation technology powering next-generation IP communications, enabling the replacement of legacy voice and messaging services. SIP, while not new, has not been widely deployed by mobile service providers to date, but this is about to change, with capabilities such as voice over LTE and the rich communications suite. The demand for HD voice will also become more commonplace in the mobile market as mobile service providers seek to differentiate their offerings from over-the-top applications. HD voice codecs are finding their way into mobile devices, which can only accelerate their usage.
Wi-Fi is another technology that mobile service providers are now leveraging to offload data from the macro network and conserve valuable wireless radio spectrum. Today mobile service providers support thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, and by encouraging subscribers to use Wi-Fi for Internet access they are not only conserving spectrum but also eliminating backhaul bottlenecks. However, this has also had perhaps the unintended consequence of enabling subscribers to use new end-to-end IP voice and video applications such as Skype (News - Alert) and Apple FaceTime – applications that mobile service providers are not currently monetizing.
So will mobile service providers be motivated to roll out their own voice and video over Wi-Fi services in advance of new 4G services like voice over LTE? Should they use Wi-Fi-based mobile broadband to get a jumpstart on 4G service offerings, leveraging the same IMS-based service delivery architecture? If they choose this path, mobile service providers can start migrating to all-IP communications today, and more importantly participate directly in the monetization of new IP communications services and applications, including HD voice, video calling and unified communications. Voice service as we’ve known it for decades could soon be a thing of the past – something we’ll look back on fondly like the days of the horse and buggy, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be using smartphones to make phone calls. It’s just that the caller experience will be completely different, and calls may not even be made to actual phone numbers.Ken Osowski is director of service provider product marketing at Acme Packet (News - Alert) (www.acmepacket.com).
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi