Mobile voice-over-IP applications will reach 278 million users, generating $32.2 billion in annual revenues by 2013, a third of that going to reluctant cellular operators, a new study predicts.
“The participants include a broad spectrum of mobile VoIP industry participants, including start-ups, online VoIP providers, mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), and mobile virtual network enablers (MVNEs)—and the mobile operators themselves; all of whom are leveraging, or will
leverage, very different opportunities associated with mobile VoIP,” Frank Dickson, analyst with Arizona-based research firm In-Stat, told Enterprise VoIPplanet.com.
The findings suggests that voice is increasingly seen as a data application. Widespread adoption of Skype, Vonage, and the iPhone may be prompting this shift in thinking.
Dickson sees Wi-Fi as the “beachhead” for mobile VoIP applications. Dual-mode smartphones, such as the iPhone and BlackBerry—able to make calls via Wi-Fi or a cellular network—are one of the big factors spurring mobile VoIP. Some 400 million dual-mode handsets will ship in 2013, according to the researchers.
The beneficiaries of the expected revenue from mobile VoIP applications appear evenly split, with applications such as Skype, 3G providers, and traditional cellular each taking one-third of the pie.
For mobile virtual networks and 3G operators, mobile VoIP promises to save money by adding voice to their current data plans. Dickson sees another future for cellular carriers, such as Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. Both carriers view mobile VoIP as a way to offload demand. T-Mobile is using dual-mode handsets as “a type of femtocell” which switches a customer’s calls from the traditional wireless backbone onto a home network, the analyst said.
But cellular providers aren’t coming altogether willingly to this new mobile VoIP future. “They are brought in kicking and screaming,” Dickson told Enterprise VoIPplanet.
“As user habits are being shaped by rich on-line experiences, mobile carriers’ control over devices and data applications is waning,” according to the In-Stat report entitled “Mobile VoIP—Transforming the Future of Wireless.”
Their embrace of mobile VoIP may not be with open arms, but experts see it as inevitable for cellular providers.
“Sooner or later, mobile operators will be forced to deploy their own VoIP services, since next-generation networks such as Long Term Evolution and WiMAX are all-IP and don’t support circuit voice,” explained John Blau, a German-based research associate with Unstrung Insider.
By 2019, half of all mobile calls will be over all-IP networks, according to reports published earlier this year.
Along with the shift toward mobile VoIP, In-Stat also predicts the Asia-Pacific region will replace the EMEA countries as the largest market for mobile VoIP.
Carriers’ initial reluctance will be overcome as voice minutes continue to dwindle and operators rely more and more on revenue from data services, as Enterprise VoIPplanet reported in August 2009.