Fellow analyst Andy Hicks over at GlobalData has made an interesting observation – that there’s a resurgence in voice traffic.
It’s become an industry ‘fact’ that since around 2015, traditional voice traffic has been in (terminal) decline, but not so says Hicks, pointing to evidence from a number of carriers that they’ve seen voice volumes increase substantially since the COVID-19 crisis began. (see Telecoms finds its voice traffic again in lockdown). The UK’s FT reported in March that there was a 50% surge in voice calling, which led to interconnect problems that resulted in poor voice quality and dropped calls.
The rationale behind this is that IP alternatives are clunky, don’t provide good enough quality of service, and that voice calling is substituting for all those face-to-face conversations we might otherwise be having.
What is clear from our recent experiences is that the digital economy is not voiceless – despite all the texting, IMing and gramming that’s going on. People want and need to talk. If they can’t talk in person, then they use telecommunications service in one form or another. Sometimes that includes being able to see the person they’re talking to (ie video calling), but not always. Many people like talking over their Echo Dots, for example, because they can do something else while talking, and because the sound quality means it feels like the person is in the room.
But as intriguing as these ideas are, they don’t really help our industry if people are not paying for voice. The challenge is not just to provide a service people want, or even to ensure a good quality of service, it’s to provide such a service and generate revenue from it.
Yet I’m typical of many customers in that there is no barrier to me literally talking all day if I want to, because my tariff includes unlimited voice calling – underlining the low value the industry has placed on voice.
The coronavirus crisis has shown us how deluded such an approach to tariffing is. All-you-can-eat approaches remove the element of value. So how do we increase the value of voice now that we’ve commoditised it?
The answer is quality. And although quality-based tariffs can be extremely challenging to manage (see Charging for the 24 carat network: what QoS-based pricing means), voice is one service where people understand the value of better quality and where there is a precedent to charge for it. Poor quality voice is frustrating, as we have recently discovered. I’ve lost count of the number of poor quality VoIP and mobile calls I’ve experienced in the last few months – call drop off, packetisation, lost packets, latency, or problems with volume.
The challenge and opportunity for service providers is to provide a higher quality voice service for homeworkers that is also revenue-generating – moving them from best-efforts VoIP or consumer voice services to a more reliable and higher quality service that they’re prepared to pay for. The issue isn’t about technology but about sales and marketing – extending an offer of higher quality voice to customers that traditionally either haven’t been offered the option or for whom the offer has not fitted their needs.