Will OTT VoIP Apps Destroy the Telecoms Industry?

Trefor.net welcomes VoIP Week contributor Alex Kinch, Founder and CEO of Ziron.

As soon as the Telecoms industry came to terms with the WhatsApp acquisition and what it could mean for their SMS revenues, CEO Jan Koum dropped another bombshell: the company would be launching voice services from Q2.

For many this announcement spelled the end. Surely operator executives around the world should start packing their suitcases and call it a day. After years of racing to the bottom the industry has finally hit rock. Well, not quite. In my view, it’s high-time these doomsayers started to examine the opportunities that come with the increase of OTT voice apps (mVoiP), rather than demonising the unstoppable tide of technological evolution.

The ‘telco industry camp’ and the ‘mVoiP camp’ needn’t be enemies. There is room a-plenty for them to co-exist, at least for the foreseeable future. News reports would have you believe that the only people using landlines are rural dwelling anti-tech luddites, however Ofcom has reported that in the last statistical year call volumes from both fixed and mobile phones were in excess of 100 billion minutes. Their report states that 82% of adults still use a home landline – but only 28% of adults use any form of VoIP. The report also said that there are currently 82.7 million active mobile subscribers in the UK, but a report from Analysys Mason clarifies that only 20% of them are active mVoiP users.
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It is essential to keep in mind that mVoIP isn’t new, as in recent years a host of mVoiP apps have launched, including Fring, Nimbuzz to Viber. We’ve had a long time to come to terms with mVoIP apps and adapt business models accordingly. The key is to think about how you can value, rather than trying to stand in the way of change. At least one popular OTT app has been conducting trials with traditional telcos, in which calls from the PSTN made to a user’s regular GSM number are intercepted and delivered to the app instead of via the SIM. This kind of forward progress must be embraced. We must ask, “How we can add value and work together to deliver an enhanced customer experience?”

Massive scope exists for smart VoIP operators that can act as a gateway between the old world of the PSTN and the new world of OTT apps. As someone that has been in Telco for more years than I dare ever admit, I remember similar hysteria taking hold ten years ago when Skype first became popular. Today, Skype is feeding and contributing to the Telco industry, driving a third of the world’s phone traffic. The fact is that Telecoms is evolving, and,to survive we are going to have to evolve with it.

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