Since the number of fixed network voice subscriptions has been dropping for at least a decade, some might suspect that there is no end to the decline. Some of us have argued that there is some equilibrium point that will be reached, when the number of subscriptions actually stabilizes.
A new policy by Charter shows why that will be the case. Apparently, Charter is going to stop selling voice subscriptions as a discrete product, and will in the future only sell voice in conjunction with at least one other service, either entertainment video or broadband access.
“Going forward, we will not offer Charter Phone as a standalone product,” a Charter spokesman apparently has confirmed.
If you think about it, that also is how Verizon Wireless will price its “Share Everything” services. Verizon Wireless has made U.S. domestic voice and text messaging both “unlimited” and part of the basic fee to use the Verizon network.
In principle, the bundling is akin to the ways consumers buy many other products. When you buy a PC, a tablet, a smart phone, an iPod or an automobile, you get a battery as part of the device. Both Charter and Verizon Wireless now are making “voice” part of a product bundle, a feature, essentially.
If, as some of us suspect, voice and messaging eventually will be features of a network access service, then the number of voice “lines” in service will stop falling, in line either with the number of broadband access or video entertainment accounts in service.
Of course, you also can argue that Charter is going to lose some potential “voice-only” accounts. That likely is the case. But the more-important angle is the creation of a stable, on-going revenue model for voice, which increasingly is that voice if a feature of an access service.
Some will remember the debates about whether telcos should sell “naked DSL.” The argument was that customers should be able to buy “only” broadband access if they prefer. In the future, voice might simply be part of the broadband access recurring fee.
Oddly enough, “voice as a feature” might be the easiest way to assure a continuing revenue contribution for fixed network voice.