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Open Is the New Black for Mobile Voice Services

Ian Maclean

It's time for some fresh thinking about voice services. Once the dominant source of revenue for mobile operators, voice calls are now a rare form of communication among consumers and barely factor into the top line. But if operators are open minded about their voice infrastructure and new service concepts, they will find that voice services can be much more than old-fashioned phone calls.

We all know the story so far about traditional mobile voice usage. While mobile data traffic surges, voice traffic remains relatively flat. The latest Ericsson Mobility Report finds that mobile data traffic increased 70% in the year from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017. In contrast, voice traffic has grown in the mid-single digits per year over the last five years. But the surge in mobile data usage hasn't reversed the industrywide trend in falling average revenue per user (APRU). According to PwC's Strategy&, telecom industry ARPU has declined over the last five years in every geographic region.

It's not an exaggeration to say that this story will end badly for many operators if they continue in a business-as-usual way. Indeed, as Strategy& warns, "The situation in the telecom industry is dire. But it is survivable, by intelligent, innovative companies that have the courage to fund essential modernization and the farsightedness to embrace new strategic identities suitable for their capabilities, market and culture."

The outlook might look gloomy to some, but mobile operators can change this negative narrative into positive results by embracing openness throughout their organizations. Looking specifically at voice services, open innovation is long overdue at multiple levels.

First of all, operators need to be more open minded about what constitutes a voice service today. Voice is no longer simply about one customer calling another -- that market is highly commoditized and in decline. More broadly, voice is a user interface that controls smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, issuing voice commands to launch a call, play a song, check the weather, or make a purchase. By thinking beyond basic telephony, operators can be open to exploring myriad new service concepts that integrate voice with a variety of applications.

Secondly, operators need to open their traditional voice infrastructure in a secure way to in-house or third-party application developers to create compelling new services. Once an operator has a thinking-outside-the-box mindset, they need open platforms that facilitate rapid service creation.

There is also room for innovation with basic voice calls to differentiate services and improve the experience for customers. Features like group calling, device transfer and anonymous call screening can minimize the frustration of missed calls and unknown callers, for example.

Group calling is somewhat like a modern, wireless version of the traditional family fixed-line phone. (The younger, mobile-only folks among you may need a history lesson on what that is!) Group calling treats the family like their own small enterprise with a single number that works seamlessly with multiple, individual mobile identities. Not only can calls be originated, answered, moved and conferenced between family members, but call handling can also be automated based on location. So for example, when someone makes a call to a family member's cell phone who is at home but can't answer, the call leverages subscriber location information to divert to other family members who are also at home. The feature ensures that the family never misses important calls.

With anonymous call screening, calls from withheld numbers go directly to voicemail, which protects subscribers from being interrupted by unknown callers and allows them to listen to messages when convenient.

Mobile operators can add value and differentiate their voice services with advanced calling features. But new use cases for voice are multiplying at a dizzying rate, which means operators not only need to adopt a telephony platform that enables rapid innovation but also embraces a DevOps approach to service creation. Rather than relying on their traditional vendors for new voice features, mobile operators need the flexibility to customize or create new services quickly.

With the right service creation framework (SCF) combined with an open, programmable Telephony Application Server (TAS), mobile operator software engineers, developers and trusted independent software vendors (ISVs) can access network features to modify existing services or develop new applications. Operators can expose location, presence and user profile data, as well as voice and messaging services, which can be embedded into any application.

A flexible, open service creation environment fosters endless possibilities for new voice applications and puts mobile operators back in control of service innovation. Voice communication is no longer confined to interaction between people. Voice will be the interface between untold permutations of people, applications, things and artificial intelligence.

Traditional mobile voice calls are necessary but not always viewed as desirable services for every demographic. But with open service creation, mobile operators can drive the next wave of innovation and develop voice applications that people not only need but also want.

— Ian Maclean, CMO, Metaswitch

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