The Two Faces of OTT

4:00 AM -- At the Open Mobile Summit in London this week, the subject of over-the-top (OTT) services on 4G networks stirred up some mixed messages.

Here's what Telia Company 's Hakan Dahlstrom, president of mobility services, said about OTT services at the event:

    One hears that OTT is taking our business, but I don't believe that. All OTT is increasing the value of access we provide to the end customer. We have to understand this and put it into our pricing models.

    I don't see OTT players as a problem. Some have services that could change the revenue stream that we have on voice. ... Then we need to provide an alternative.

That sounds reasonable. But this is the same operator that has said it doesn't want customers to use free voice over IP (VoIP) on its 4G networks unless they have paid an extra charge to do so, and it wants to throttle the bandwidth on those customers who use those free VoIP services without paying. For more on this, check out this video interview and these articles from Light Reading Mobile:

Are these positions as contradictory as they sound? Perhaps not. Maybe charging for a special VoIP tariff is a type of tiered offering that makes sense as operators seek to distinguish among different quality-of-service levels on their 4G networks. It could be what Dahlstrom meant by factoring OTT into the operator's pricing models.

Dahlstrom also said that TeliaSonera was in the process of shifting from being a voice-centric business to a data-centric business. That's a seismic shift and the Swedish operator is not alone in facing it. But where 4G voice and messaging services are concerned, that transition looks more like limbo, because mobile operators do not yet have an IP voice alternative to the likes of Skype Ltd. and WhatsApp.

One such alternative is IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)-based VoLTE technology, but for TeliaSonera, that won't be available until next year.

I think the mixed messages about OTT will continue for a while yet -- operators will go on liking and loathing them. But really, they are only bad for operators if they can't come up with a compelling alternative or find ways to get value out of delivering those services that their customers want.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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