Brits Brace for VOIP Battle

Britain is shaping up to be a voice-over-broadband battleground this year, if the surge in operator interest noted by U.K. regulator Ofcom is anything to go by.

Ofcom says it has been contacted by a growing number of companies interested in providing VOIP services to the country's growing population of broadband users, though it won't name the interested parties.

So now the watchdog is bringing all the VOIP hopefuls together at a behind-closed-doors meeting, slated for February 25, to tackle the "range of potential regulatory issues" that the provision of voice over broadband might raise. Those potential issues include numbering, access to emergency services, and "customer awareness of the limitations of VOIP," according to an Ofcom spokeswoman.

The surge in interest from service providers has been prompted by the explosive uptake of high-speed Internet access in the U.K., which now has more than 3 million homes hooked up with broadband -- and that number is rising every week.

That growth has already prompted a voice-over-broadband service launch by national incumbent BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), which already offers a limited service aimed specifically at the country's 1.5 million cable broadband users (see BT Gets Aggressive With VOIP). And a BT spokesman says it will announce further VOIP services in March "that will have implications for broadband customers. The existing service has allowed us to test the waters."

By that time, other players may have already entered the market. U.S. VOIP player Vonage Holdings Corp. has announced its intention to launch in the U.K. before the end of March. And VOIP wholesale operator Inclarity plc, which provides IP Centrex services (see Inclarity Upgrades Broadband Telephony), says it's about to announce a channel partnership for residential VOIP services "with a well known brand."

The meeting might also help to plug some holes in the current VOIP regulations, which are less than crystal clear, according to Dianne Northfield, program manager for global regulatory strategies at Yankee Group. "The current regulations regarding VOIP are open to interpretation -- it's quite nebulous. That's the case in many countries," she says. "Things will become clearer once more services are launched and the operators make submissions, or complaints about other services, to the regulator."

In addition, Northfield's colleague at Yankee, Jonathan Doran, questions whether there's any money to be made from offering these services at all in the U.K. "This is not a money-spinner, and not something worth doing for many operators, though ISPs might need to offer it to keep up with the competition," says Doran. "Traditional voice services are very cheap now, and most services are moving towards flat-rate tariffs or being offered in large bundles. And it's really tough to compete against BT. It's probably something that might generate some interest if international calls were offered really cheaply."

— Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch

gbennett 12/5/2012 | 2:30:35 AM
re: Brits Brace for VOIP Battle Comrades,
I tend to agree with Mr.Doran. I recently returned to the UK after living in France and have been pleasantly surprised at the level of competition here now.

I can get low cost voice services for local, national and international calls over my conventional telephone line. What's the point in moving to a lower quality VoIP service that offers no additional features or facilities?

In the past couple of weeks I've had a couple of telephone conversations with the other person being on enterprise VoIP. These were national, not international calls, and yet the delay was so bad we ended up saying "over" when we finished speaking. And this was using a G.711 codec. Goodness knows what the delay would have been like with compression. On the other hand I've had calls to a business contact who uses a VoIP service from home, and the quality has been fine. But part of the quality equation is consistency, and VoIP consistency clearly isn't there yet. I assume the biggest part of the problem is the heterogeneous nature of the end to end connection, which may have to pass through several conversion stages in transit, each of which adds delay.

So what about adding new features to a VoIP service vs POTS?

A very useful feature on a residential phone system would be to have multiple phone lines into my house. I work from home, so this would be a real benefit. This can be done with POTS today, but the pricing isn't very attractive.

But current "broadband" technologies don't offer enough bandwidth for multiple voice connections, never mind leaving any additional bandwidth for Internet access.

What kinds of useful new features or services can a VoIP connection offer, compared to good old POTS?

MikeParr 12/5/2012 | 2:30:09 AM
re: Brits Brace for VOIP Battle As an ISP (SAQ) we think VoIP is boring and I would agree with the previous commentary - it does nothing that POTs cannot already do. Where I part company is on the quality issue. Currently we are offering IP videophones. Using an ADSL connection in the Uk we can obtain excellent lip synch conversations (with no "and so over to you Harry" stuff). So, sorry but, from our point of view, ADSL can deliver on quality (voice and video) and we believe that it plugs the service gap - end users now want something more than fast e-mail, web browsing and a bit of VPN. Videophones deliver this. And yes our phones support ITU standards.
sgan201 12/5/2012 | 2:30:07 AM
re: Brits Brace for VOIP Battle Hi,
A simple idea.. How about VoIP deliver better voice than POTS?? You have enough bandwidth to waste.. Why stay at G.711?? I believe this is what Skype did...

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