Ovum Survey Shocker: OTT Video Calling Is More Popular Than OTT Voice

I was surprised by this Ovum survey that indicates that 47% of US mobile subscribers use OTT video calling at least once a month and 32% use OTT voice. The results are similar in the UK (where I live) and even higher in developing countries.

I have heard that sending voice recordings via WhatsApp is popular though I have never done it nor tried video calling. I have tried voice calls over WhatsApp but not often. My digital advisor (ten-year-old son) just uses WhatsApp for text messaging (no voice or video calls so far).

WhatsApp announced in June 2016 that "more than 100 million voice calls are made every day on WhatsApp." They had 1 billion monthly users at the time and that increased to 1.5 billion by the fourth quarter of 2017. Of these, around 1.2 billion were daily users. Daily messages were around 60 billion, photos 5.2 billion, and videos 1.2 billion.

Let's assume there are now 200 million WhatsApp voice calls per day (100 million x 1.5 for user growth since Q4 2017 x 1.33 for increased individual usage). This equates to 6 billion calls per month (200 million x 30).

Let's assume, conservatively, that the Ovum stat for US is the global average i.e., 32% of WhatsApp's 2.3 billion (1.5 billion x 1.5) users make these 6 billion calls per month. That equates to eight calls per month ([6 billion/2.3 billion]/32%) per individual. That is not a large number and the US stat is probably below the global average making eight calls per month an overestimate. So, the popularity of OTT voice calling indicated by the Ovum survey appears to tally with the data disclosed by WhatsApp (the world's most popular messaging app, ahead of FB messenger, WeChat and QQ Mobile).

What is still surprising about the Ovum survey is that OTT video calling is more popular than OTT voice calling. In its Q1 2018, FB reported 3 billion minutes of voice and video calls every day. If we assume 300 million voice calls (200 million WhatsApp and 100 million Messenger) and another 300 million video calls (assuming same as voice) we get 600 million in total, each lasting five minutes on average. That seems a realistic number, albeit probably skewed by some longer calls.

Back in February 2014, Apple revealed its users made 15 to 20 million FaceTime calls every day. Cultofmac has cited financial analyst estimates that the iPhone user base is about 80% bigger now (c. 900 million) than in 2014. Hence, FaceTime usage in 2014 was 17.5 million/500 million messages/user per day (0.035). If we assume only half of Apple users use FaceTime, this still corresponds to 0.07 messages per day or 2.1 per month.

We can reconcile this analysis with the Ovum survey data if we assume more people use video calling than voice but the number of video messages they send each month (around two) is much less than voice messages (around eight).

Who cares? And what are the implications of all this?

Well it looks like traditional cellular voice calls could become a relic like landlines. However, a big inhibitor to OTT video and voice messaging is that it eats into your data allowance if you are not on WiFi. Results vary, but if we assume 1MB per minute for voice and 3MB for video then a 3GB monthly limit would cover 50 minutes of voice or 17 minutes of video each month. I suspect people tend to exhaust their data limits a lot more often than their voice minute limits and hence there is still a reluctance to use OTT voice and video messaging on mobile. However, convenience is a critical factor here. If you are responding to a WhatsApp message, it is far easier to click the call button on the app than to go back to the home screen and then launch the phone app and search for the same contact.

As more and more of our communication is routed through Facebook's WhatsApp and Messenger, they will be able to amass even more information about their users for targeted advertising. Facebook has denied that it listens in to voice calls and claims it just logs their length and who you are calling to create a "better experience."

Meanwhile mobile operators may find that all their investments in VoLTE and RCS are for naught as OTT providers win and they are left monetizing the data pipe. The other losers here are Apple and Google who control the operating system but seem also to have been disintermediated in messaging.

Software is eating the world once again.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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Gabriel Brown 7/9/2018 | 7:21:26 AM
Re: Unbelievable to me ! WhatsApp video isn't good quality -- again, I don't have stats, but by to my (untrained) eye they are trading picture quality for reliability, data use, CPU requirements, etc. Mostly, I'm OK with that.
komatineni 7/6/2018 | 6:47:42 PM
Re: Unbelievable to me ! Doubt whatsapp would be happy with 740Kb/min. It's 12Kbps average and even a Webpage is asking much more these days. Assuming the good coverage and speed, 1MB per voice (~130Kbps) and 3MB per video (~400Kbps) is very reasonable. I would say video may take much larger volume if it's a good quality HD call or multiparty call. 
komatineni 7/6/2018 | 6:44:18 PM
Re: Unbelievable to me ! Entirely possible. It may be like wifi 'onloading' but in this survey they're focusing on not 'free' but changing user behaviour. So got to see if i can get my hands on the report to understand the details. 
sarcher60555 7/6/2018 | 6:09:56 PM
Re: Unbelievable to me ! I think your math is way off.  Whatsapp take 740 Kb/min → 740 *60 = 44400 kb/h → 44 Mb/hour.  Heavy Whatsapp Voice user here and never have I even got close to 3GB in a month for my data limit.

"Results vary, but if we assume 1MB per minute for voice and 3MB for video then a 3GB monthly limit would cover 50 minutes of voice or 17 minutes of video each month."
mendyk 7/6/2018 | 9:55:41 AM
Re: Unbelievable to me ! Maybe video calling is like the bucket of iced shrimp on the all-you-can-eat buffet table. If it's "free" most people will load up their plate, even if it looks a little sketchy. But they probably wouldn't pay extra for it.
komatineni 7/5/2018 | 7:17:25 PM
Re: Unbelievable to me ! True indeed. We do use video with family as well as sometimes at work. But if we take Mobile Video, then the chances of intentionally turning it on are not that great IMHO. Office environment - we do use webex / tp with video while on the road it's a phone call (WhatsApp or other VoIP) and not easy feet to keep the phone's camera facing us. 
Gabriel Brown 7/5/2018 | 11:37:40 AM
Re: Unbelievable to me ! I don't know about the numbers, etc, but this is not at all surprising to me. This is now normal consumer behavior. It's the magic of technology.

I make several video calls a month, sometimes per week. For personal use, it's mainly within the family. At work, it's somewhat normal to have your web cam switched on during a webex or skype-for-business session.

Where I agree with James is that the mobile data allowance can be a big deal for some users and is an inhibitor to use. WiFi helps obviously, as do bigger data budles. It feels like WhatsApp (in particular) down-grades the video to save bandwidth and reduce glitches. 

Even for voice I often find WhatsApp as reliable as operator voice and mostly better quality -- maybe this is because my carrier has excellent 4G but doesn't yet offer VoLTE.
brooks7 7/5/2018 | 11:36:55 AM
Video versus Voice  

Mobile subscribers and OTT voice.  I think that most people think of cell phones (aka Mobile Subscribers) and use the voice that is built in most of the time.  That is why it is a cell phone right?

Video OTT.  If I am running a Skype video call while 4G connected, is that OTT.  If so, then are there ANY non-OTT video services deployed broadly?


mendyk 7/5/2018 | 10:16:22 AM
Slice and dice I wonder what the percentages are for mobile users vs. laptop/desktop users.
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