In the absence of some significant amount of innovation in voice services, it might be easy to predict that the revenue contribution from voice, both fixed and mobile, will slowly decline. That’s easy enough for those with no operating responsibilities to say. But there is one major caveat.

Typical estimates of voice revenue contribution, not to mention the strategic value of voice, tend to focus on “bearer traffic” revenues, not the contribution of signaling. And one can make an argument that if the voice revenue contribution trend does change, it will be because of innovations in signaling, not bearer traffic, that will drive it.
That might seem an odd statement, as signaling is a technical requirement for creating and deriving voice revenue, not an end user service. In one sense that always will be true.

Voice always will require signaling and control to match calling parties with called parties. But it also is possible that signaling is the key to dramatically changing the voice value proposition as well.

Executives aren’t dumb; they already know this. That’s what “unified communications” is all about. If you think about it, much of UC value is produced by the signaling-related aspects of “call control.”

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Starting a session on one device or network, and moving it to another device or network is mostly a matter of signaling. Unifying access to message stores is mostly a matter of signaling.

In many cases, much of the value of “unifying” communications is to enable the automatic providing of richer context. Much as Saleforce.com provides value by integrating lots of information about the person associated with a phone number, so perhaps voice sessions can be similarly enriched.

In other words, think of a scenario where a phone number that is dialed becomes the trigger for pulling information from a variety of message stores into the context of a session.

Maybe that is the most recent emails, twitter posts, Facebook posts, instant messages and text messages associated with one calling number and one called number. Think of Salesforce.com applied to any voice call.

The value then is not so much the revenue from booking minutes of bearer use, but the richness of the session, which is triggered by the use of the phone numbers.

The U.S. telecom market generated $367 billion in service revenue in 2010, says Pyramid Research. Mobile data will be the largest contributor to growth over the next five years, Pyramid says. While it was the fourth-largest service segment in 2010 (after mobile voice, fixed voice and pay-TV), Pyramid Research predicts that mobile broadband will overtake all three services to become the single largest revenue stream in the U.S. telecom industry by 2016.

As demand for fixed circuit-switched voice decreases, fixed VoIP will increase, growing at a 12.2 percent compound annual growth rate from 2011 to 2016, with perhaps uncertain revenue contribution, as voice will be bundled with other services.

The issue is what can be done to increase the richness and value of voice. High-definition voice is one suggestion, as is video calling. But better use of signaling to create rich sessions integrating other message modes also deserves a serious look.

U.S. telecom revenue trends

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