Today most people are familiar with services such as Skype. Effectively a location independent mobile service, with Skype it does not matter where people call from nor does it matter where the called party is located. Geography has become irrelevant. By the end of Q4 2012, it was anticipated that roughly 50 per cent of international call traffic is likely to have taken place via Skype and similar services rather than traditional carrier traffic.
More and more people are installing Skype on their handsets or using Facetime on their iPhone, and they are getting used to the fact that calling from their mobile phones doesn’t necessarily have to involve the mobile operator. What’s more they also get video telephony. Increasingly people use WiFi on their smartphones, both at home, at work and in public places. The introduction of WPA2 as well as SIM based authentication which allows automatic connection to a WiFi network without signing in makes it easy for users to route their traffic via WiFi and opt out of traditional telephony. Operators such as Rebtel in Sweden and Republic Wireless in the USA focus on this opportunity – these mobile operators that use WiFi offload “push” their customers to make calls using Skype like services.
The trend away from making standard mobile voice calls is accelerating with the adoption of LTE. For example, in contrast to older versions of the iPhone, the new iPhone with Apple’s iOS 6 upgraded FaceTime from a WiFi only feature to a cellular feature. AT&T Wireless was the first to allow customers to use FaceTime over LTE if they signed up to their new shared data tariff plan.
During 2013 we will see the start of a fundamental reshaping of mobile telecoms service offerings driven by new services based on the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), the evolution of mobile wholesale as well as regulatory trends. Some operators may go all the way and break the link between the mobile telephone numbers and geography. After all it seems somewhat archaic that in a world where distance does not matter, mobile operator tariffs are still based on location and distance. Location is not an issue with Skype or FaceTime and this is one of the reasons for the success of these OTT operators.
Some operators have already introduced services based on IMS, for example in Canada the Rogers One Number service allows the seamless switching between a smartphone and computer. It allows mobile operators to leverage the proliferation of free WiFi connectivity to in effect extend their network coverage world-wide. This allows mobile operators to fight back against OTT services such as Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime by in effect becoming themselves an “OTT over WiFi” player.
There are also traditional mobile services that allow users to avoid roaming charges and thus take at least one aspect of geography out of equation that already exists for voice (Truphone, WoldSIM and other) and data (roamline.com, in collaboration with KPN). The business model is built on exploiting the difference between lower wholesale prices paid by MVNOs versus high inter-operator roaming tariffs by offering customer SIMs with multiple numbers in different countries.
The opportunity to take geography out of mobile pricing is not limited to roaming. For example, Turk Telecom launched a service in Germany and Belgium aimed at the Turkish ethnic segment in these countries. Customers are charged exactly the same amount to call numbers in Belgium or Turkey. Turkcell could add the ability to recharge linked accounts (a Turkish person working in Belgium can recharge the prepaid SIM of relatives in Turkey) and make small mobile payments across borders. Smart, of the Philippines is already going down this route, targeting the Filipino diaspora segment around the world.
As a result of these trends in international call pricing as well as roaming, Geography may soon become irrelevant.
Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting