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WhatsApp Threatens Carrier VoLTE

Sarah Thomas
4/18/2014
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As WhatsApp continues to make more noise following its acquisition by Facebook, operators remain relatively silent on their voice-over LTE (VoLTE) deployment plans. Will voice over-the-top of LTE (VOTLTE, anyone?) be the real story of the year?

Since Facebook announced its acquisition of WhatsApp in February, the OTT chat provider has said it will begin offering voice services to its customers, and it has inked a deal with E-Plus Service GmbH & Co. KG in Germany whereby the carrier is offering its customers unlimited access to WhatsApp's chat services outside of their data plans. (See Facebook to Acquire WhatsApp for $16B.)

WhatsApp has a huge user base -- more than 465 million monthly active users at last count. When it does introduce voice, that's 465 million voice customers that can call, not just each other, but anyone in the world, whether they are customers or not. E-Plus didn't say whether it would include voice in its plans, but my guess is it saw the writing on the wall when it formed its partnership.

"I think [voice] is huge and that is what is going to get the WhatsApp membership sky-high," industry analyst Sunil Tagare wrote in an email to Light Reading. "I am not sure WhatsApp is contemplating the latter yet but I think they should because that's where their massive growth is going to come from. Basically it means that every person in the world with a smartphone will be forced to become a WhatsApp member. They won't have a choice."

It's an exciting prospect, or scary if you're an operator. It also makes it a bit harder to get excited about VoLTE, that 4G voice technology you've heard a lot about but never actually heard. Sure, the GSM Association (GSMA) expects around 20 VoLTE launches this year, but -- especially in the US -- it seems the operators have steered the conversation away from 4G voice as they focus on other network enhancements. (See VoLTE: So Close You Can Hear It.)

Nokia Networks recently put out some (self-serving) research that suggests VoLTE is superior to VoIP in battery consumption (consuming 40% less) and quality levels, as well as having up to 94% lower mouth-to-ear delay compared to OTT VoIP.

The vendor's conclusion was that mobile operators have a powerful tool with VoLTE to compete with the OTT players, but I think you could also takeaway that it's in their best interest to make VoLTE a success lest they become overtaken by inefficient OTT options.

That movement is already happening, too. WhatsApp has shown it can be a great partner to an operator, but it should also serve as a warning. When it begins offering voice services, the voice game will change again. The question is whether or not the operators will be playing.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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wanlord
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wanlord,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/25/2014 | 1:41:37 PM
Re: Threat ??
@Seven, it's not just about revenue, it's also about reducing costs in the network to maintain two networks (3G CDMA and 4G LTE). The cost to maintain that equipment, the systems, the processes, the real estate, the power, people, etc. Not that it will happen soon, but it will happen. Revenue is part of it, but not all. 
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/23/2014 | 12:15:48 PM
Re: Threat ??
Wanlord,

Without a revenue driver, there is no driver.  You have to spend money to convert to VoLTE and without additional revenue then who is going to pay for all this new equipment.  Remember the cost of the legacy gear = 0.

seven

 
wanlord
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wanlord,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/23/2014 | 11:36:40 AM
Threat ??
@Sarah, do you think it really proposes a threat to operators? Migrating to VoLTE is likely less a marketing driver and more a network driver (reduce legacy infrastructure, consolidate voice onto existing 4G networks, etc). Just because the user uses WhatsApp, or Facetime, or any other VOIP app, they are still using the data network where the revenue is shifting too. I think the big issue will be lack of QoS using those external apps, while VoLTE will have it. 

Also, I think the kind of users that use chat apps are not the kind of users that are calling to talk anyway, so it doesn't take away from the users that are going to use voice no matter what. 
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/23/2014 | 5:42:53 AM
Re: NSN's view
I've argued consistently that VoLTE is needed by mobile operators with LTE networks. It's been slow going, but I still hold that view. Although note, that's not the same thing as VoLTE being needed for rich communications.

It would be a mistake (unthinkable?) for operators abdicate from communication services over LTE. The risk is that they could be usurped by new entrants that capture the value from new applications. A passive stance will mean they abdicate by default.

All that said, it's not easy: LTE coverage, device capability, and frankly, the business case for investment in a declining revenue stream (classic voice), combine to make VoLTE a challenge. Moreover, VoLTE itself is access-specific, when clearly the communications market is now multi-modal and, to an extent, access and device agnostic.
futurephil
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futurephil,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 6:57:33 PM
Re: NSN's view
There are a lot of things that Tropo, TeleStax, HarQen, MindMeld, Calltrunk, Seemail and many, many others are building that consumers and business will find useful (and pay for).

Keep an eye on the Hypervoice Consortium and what's going on at TADHack for more examples of companies building apps that use voice communications in interesting new ways.

Supporting all this application work are efforts like the Project Clearwater Ecosystem (which launched today -- quietly), so that's where and how I'm hearing about a lot of these things. 

 
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 6:43:25 PM
Re: NSN's view
Hey Phil!

What is meant by "richer communications"?  I already have all the services that we have listed here and no VoLTE.

 

seven

 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
4/22/2014 | 6:16:35 PM
Re: NSN's view
It's the urgency I was objecting to. 3G voice will be around for awhile. But, yes, if they want to respond to OTT and build richer comms, which I think they should, then VoLTE is the name of the game. Even if they don't, it still is so they can refarm their 3G networks. That is just a much longer term end game.
futurephil
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futurephil,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 5:47:41 PM
Re: NSN's view
I think Heavy Reading has been pretty consistent about saying that VoLTE is needed if the end game is "richer communications."

Are they wrong?
ZHANGZHANG123@gmail.com
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ZHANGZHANG123@gmail.com,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/22/2014 | 7:21:30 AM
Re: Another Giant OTT APP WeChat has Voice service already
I feel WeChat = Facebook + Skype, that is why I love it and use it as my primary Smart Phone APP. I believe it will change the world!
ZHANGZHANG123@gmail.com
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ZHANGZHANG123@gmail.com,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/22/2014 | 7:17:45 AM
Re: Another Giant OTT APP WeChat has Voice service already
WeChat has full voice service, not only the reall time voice talking, but also voice messaging, multi-party voice chat, video conference etc.

check out this article from IndiaTimes please

http://www.indiatimes.com/technology/mobile/10-reasons-why-wechat-is-better-than-whatsapp-58313.html

 

 

 
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