A Future in Noise

Above the show floor hubbub at last week's CTIA, I think I got a whiff of what the future holds for mobile voice services as we move towards fourth-generation networks in the U.S. – and it sounds like a big ball of static, hiss, and dropouts.

You see, even though AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless still seem somewhat leery of Skype Ltd. and other voice-over-IP clients, the move to Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and – to a lesser extent – WiMax makes the switch to cheap, or maybe even free, packetized voice services more likely. (See US Carriers Still Lukewarm on Skype and Skype Ist Verboten!)

LTE and WiMax are all-IP networks, so the carrier has to offer a voice client anyway. Even though AT&T and Verizon currently aren't willing to see voice as "just another packet" on their networks, you have to wonder if that could change as the carriers deploy LTE during the coming years.

Voice services are already getting cheaper, while carriers are bringing in more revenue from their data services. So, despite protestations, it's not hard to see "best-effort" voice services as a distinct possibility on proto-4G networks. After all, why spend valuable time and money on a service for which people will pay less and less?

Meanwhile, as data becomes the money-maker, carriers will move away from offering so-called "unlimited" data packages. Verizon has already said that it's less keen on all-you-can-eat data offerings.

This is how I see it going:

  • You buy a data package and get unlimited calling thrown in for a nominal fee, or even for free. The call quality isn't necessarily great, because the carriers aren't too worried about quality-of-service with this best-effort offering.

  • The data packages are segmented into standard user, family, and heavy user style packages. A heavy user gets, say, gigabytes of download capacity, while the standard and family packages offer less.
  • Enterprise users and others that want better voice services can still get them – but it'll cost more money to get any guaranteed service levels.

    With the introduction of Skype on the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android handsets, it seems to me that other VOIP services will inevitably move in the direction of cheap and cheerful calling plans. It might be different if carriers can find some way to make better revenues on voice, but otherwise I fail to see the motivation for better quality voice offerings in the years to come. (See Skype Lands on iPhone.)

    — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

  • IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 4:07:37 PM
    re: A Future in Noise

    Good title. What I've noticed in the U.K. is that all operators let you run Skype over 3G/HSPA, but there's so much wrong with the user experience that hardly anyone bothers. Be interesting to see how/if that changes with LTE.



    menexis 12/5/2012 | 4:07:36 PM
    re: A Future in Noise

    data is most certainly the money maker for these companies, but quite frankly I don't think they should or will get rid of the unlimited data plans. It's really more of a marketing pitch to offer unlimited data package.

    IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 4:07:35 PM
    re: A Future in Noise

    I don’t see many “unlimited” plans on the market (if any) – but I do see some suitably big bundles. 3UK offers 15 GB for £15 a month now. That’s a killer deal, although in my ad hoc experience actual performance on 3 is not always what it should be.

    Perhaps one business model would be to let people use lots of bandwidth so long as they pay for it. In this way you’d turn P2P movie downloads and video streaming into a money spinner.

    You need some way to apply user/app policies during busy hour, or when a cell gets congested, to make this work.

    Since I am posting, I might as well pump my Twitter account: @Gabeuk (I only tweet about the weather and stuff)

    IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 4:07:35 PM
    re: A Future in Noise

    Millomar, fair point. I also use Skype on a laptop over HSPA. It works well much of the time. Video calling is also OK.

    I should have been clearer. What I meant was the use case on a mobile handset is all wrong.

    Any “presence app” that has to regularly poll for updates over HSPA sucks battery on a mobile device. This is true of Skype, Truphone, push email apps, IM, even some Twitter clients. This is a deal breaker. You can’t leave these apps running and still expect to have battery to, say, call your kid’s school in an emergency later in the day.  The use case is broken for the *mass-market*.

    (Hopefully the CPC enhancements in HSPA+ will help with this, but it will be a while before we get that technology in our hands).

    It’s the same for streaming video and audio. For example, I can’t risk streaming Last.fm to a Mobbler client on my phone because I’ll have no battery left when I really to need to make/receive a call.

    Fwiw, I use all of the above, that’s how I know.

    lrmobile_millomar 12/5/2012 | 4:07:35 PM
    re: A Future in Noise

    I run Skype on a laptop with an HSDPA dongle over the 3 network in both Australia and the UK.  This is not using 3's special Skype client.  In both places the voice quality is perfectly acceptable.  So I disagree with Gabriel's view that there is much wrong with the user experience.

    As for unlimited download: operators will find ways of making money.  No one can really say what those will be.  You can be sure that if cost of production is higher than income generated "unlimited downloads" will not be a viable long term business model.

    vsomanv 12/5/2012 | 4:07:34 PM
    re: A Future in Noise

    This would fail mass adoption in countries like India.. Cheap calling would find some takers though, neverthless..


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