opinion


Will Wi-Fi Calling and VoLTE help operators meet the OTT challenge?

Wifi

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Niamh Dundon, Senior Marketing Manager at Openet, looks at recent voice technology launches by UK operators and what competitive benefits they might provide.

Over the last few weeks, most of the major UK mobile operators have launched new voice services. Each of these leverage different supporting technologies, but will they prove a match for competitive OTT offerings?

Mobile operators continue to invest heavily in their network infrastructure in order to properly manage the data traffic explosion. The roll out of LTE networks and move towards data centricity have taken precedence when it comes to budget allocation. Operators continues to invest in building out more capacity in order to monetise more services and applications. According to the GSMA, as of July this year, 422 operators has deployed LTE networks in 143 countries – strong momentum that shows little sign of slowing down.

Despite this drive towards delivering a better mobile data customer experience, one critical service still remains on the side lines – voice. While it continues to deliver a large proportion of operator revenue, it continues to take a back seat in terms of relevance and focus. It remains a core service heading towards complete commoditisation.

VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling – a turning of the tides?

Earlier this month, EE was the first UK operator to confirm a nationwide expansion of its VoLTE (voice over LTE) trial, ahead of a planned commercial launch later this year.  This was soon followed by Vodafone UK’s Wi-Fi Calling launch, and Three UK’s VoLTE launch. Telefonica too has openly indicated its intention to roll out VoLTE next year. The UK is actually trailing other global markets as global service providers including AT&T, Verizon and SingTel have all commercially launched VoLTE services.

The intention to pursue VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling services is backed by the significant advantages both offer the operator community. The biggest benefits are undoubtedly service differentiation and cost savings. The combination of both will likely help operators win back disaffected subscribers that have migrated to OTT voice services such as Vonage and Skype.

A path to voice service differentiation

VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling services after all can leverage a native dialler. This is a key asset as it delivers the same user experience as making a call on a cellular network. Furthermore VoLTE delivers superior voice quality. A 2014 report by Signals Research Group which compared VoLTE to circuit switch voice and OTT applications, found that VoLTE connects faster, consumes less network resources and uses less device battery power.

Another of the main drivers for operators deploying Wi-Fi Calling is the need to improve indoor and rural coverage issues cost effectively – an inability to connect to cellular networks properly remains one of the main motivations for customer churn. Having a compelling Wi-Fi based alternative to cellular voice calls is central to any operator’s ‘always best connected’ strategy. By having a well-integrated Wi-Fi Calling service, operators can leverage any network (Wi-Fi or cellular) where coverage exists to deliver a quality and coherent voice service. Most operators recognise the value of such an approach in safeguarding a positive customer experience and long-term retention – the reality is that subscribers don’t care what the enabling technology is as long as they can make calls.

Compelling economics

Wi-Fi Calling and VoLTE services offer compelling cost savings to operators. The reliance on Wi-Fi Calling services as an in-building or rural voice service where cellular coverage is patchy is far cheaper than larger-scale macro cellular network alternatives. The deployment of small cells to solve this issue, for example, requires large investment – especially when it comes to backhaul provision. VoLTE is much more spectrally efficient than circuit-switch voice services and the resulting cost savings derived from migrating subscriber traffic from one to the other are significant.

VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling – not without challenges

Both these voice services cannot be successfully implemented unless operators can guarantee optimal QoS and have a clear plan in place for their effective and logical monetisation. Customers are currently familiar with paying for standard voice calls by duration and number dialled. Calls generated through VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling however leverage the data network which is charged per megabyte/gigabyte consumed. Operators must deliver consistency when it comes to billing for these voice services and ensure they continue to be billed by the minute, rather than by megabyte (and not consume allocated data bundles).

This capability is possible thanks to advancements in BSS technology. Operators can use an IMS-enabled Telephony Application Server (TAS) to ensure VoLTE and Wi-Fi Calling are billed as voice calls made on a data network. The TAS is able to dynamically zero rate data used in this way and apply voice rating rules instead. It also gives the operator the flexibility to charge extra for video calls that legitimately consume more data and charge these with other data services. Whether they choose to or not, their ability to be open and transparent with customers can only facilitate greater trust and a longer, more valued ongoing relationship.

 

Niamh DundonAs Senior Product Manager, Niamh is responsible for creating Thought Leadership material. Niamh also leads the Customer Engagement Program and is responsible for Partner Marketing. Having started her career in London, Niamh spent 7 years working in numerous Marketing roles including PR, Product Marketing and Legal Marketing. Since returning to Ireland Niamh has nearly a decade of experience working within the Marketing departments of mobile operators – key focus on Base Management, Campaign Planning and Product Management. Niamh holds a Degree in Marketing from GMIT and a Masters in Marketing Management from University of Westminster.


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