Next-gen voice services create carrier opportunities

Tom Nolle, CIMI Corp
27 Jul 2009

Most service providers already realize that the revenue stream from traditional voice services has peaked and may be falling under competitive and technology pressure. As voice has traditionally been the core telecommunications service, this creates a significant challenge for service providers to build new revenue sources.

But for some years, it will be difficult for service providers to grow profits without having voice contribute its traditional share of the revenue. All of this is motivating service providers to look beyond the old voice service models to find several new sources of revenue.

Next-generation voice services offer service providers basic but compelling possibilities for future growth and increased revenue, but they must first achieve a few objectives that allow these services to reach their peak potential. First, next-gen telecom voice services need to be differentiated from over-the-top (OTT) voice competition.

Second, they have to add some value to voice services that can not only sustain margins but build additional profits. Service providers are most likely to meet these goals through a combination of network-wide enhancements and enhancements that target consumer and enterprise needs in a more specific way.

QoS capabilities offer carriers two voice service differentiators

Most network operators would agree that the QoS they can guarantee is a logical differentiator for their voice services. Over-the-top (OTT) voice is necessarily a best-effort service, and traditional worldwide voice communications has a history of dependability and stability. Today, with 60% or more of voice users in industrial economies already using broadband Internet service, it would be easy to opt for an OTT voice strategy.

Yet only a very small percentage of users do that. Far more voice lines are lost to mobile service than to OTT voice. Voice requires so little bandwidth, however, that best-effort is good enough more often than not, and finding other ways of making QoS valuable is important if the QoS differentiator is to remain valid. High-fidelity (Hi-Fi) voice and video calling are the two approaches most often considered by providers.

- Hi-Fi voice is simply voice service without the frequency filters common in PSTN wireline and wireless voice. Most voice services today deliver sound from about 100 Hz to about 4 KHz, which is a fraction of the range people can hear. High-fidelity voice is aimed at delivering approximately the full human range -- between about 20 Hz and 18 KHz, and it requires about four times the bandwidth. The whole purpose of Hi-Fi voice is to more closely duplicate in-person conversation, so it's logical to assume that users would be less tolerant of best-effort delivery.

-Video calling has been a dream of service providers for decades, but existing issues have prevented it from becoming a reality. Research suggests that video calling is more likely to be accepted if all calls start in voice-only mode and must be explicitly switched to video by each party independently. Even then, while interest in video calling ranks high in surveys, consumers with video cameras and the capability to do video chats online tend not to use the capability regularly. Vendors like Cisco are working to change that and to create a video chat model built around TVs rather than PCs. Operators could find this an easier model to deploy as an incremental service with its own price and thus be more likely to create an incentive to promote a video calling model.

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