A necessity to compete
The fifth stage is barely visible today, but has been adopted by 3 and Verizon. Yet it is the stage we believe that all operators will need to adopt over the next five years. Embracing VoIP gives the operator some semblance of control over offerings from over-the-top providers. It also plays to the operator's strengths, offering better quality of service and the potential to bundle other services. From a marketing perspective, the operator is seen as the VoIP user's friend. In addition, the VoIP player is seen as part of the "establishment."
Finally, LTE will arrive and operators will be fully able to exploit the VoIP opportunity cost effectively, as has been seen in the fixed world. In this stage, the former VoIP partners of the embrace stage become rivals again, but on a more level cost basis. However, KPN's quality of service issues when it launched fixed VoIP in the Netherlands are evidence of the need to focus on quality of delivery as much as availability.
Ultimately, the competitive environment will shape when, where and how mobile VoIP is adopted - and whether operators are able to dictate their own destiny. The scale of the first mover will be key: too small and it will be ignored, but if it is large enough, it will prompt a response. Regulation will be critical as well. If regulators seek to push net neutrality principles, then operators will have little choice but to adapt their stance. At the other extreme, particularly in the Gulf States for example, regulators are contributing to limiting VoIP access.
Legacy voice pricing will also be crucial in stimulating demand for VoIP. Expensive domestic and international calls will increase pressure from users seeking a lower-cost alternative. Conversely, cheaper calls and large call bundles will enable operators to circumvent calls for VoIP access. Call patterns will also be important. High international traffic combined with high international call pricing will be a major driver for end-users to demand VoIP.