Helping Carriers to ‘Get Their Voice Back’

David Snow
David Snow

Summary Bullets:

  • Carriers have learned to live with OTTs for some time, but with VoLTE comes a new opportunity to mitigate them; will carriers take it?
  • Vendors have developed a number of different approaches to this challenge; ranging from the conventional to the unashamedly aggressive.

For many years, the challenge that OTT players present to carriers has been a constant industry theme impinging almost every aspect of their business. Over the course of time, the carrier response has moved from one of aggression (i.e., blocking access, which did not go down well with subscribers) to one of acceptance, mutual recognition and co-existence. However, OTTs are still eating carriers’ lunches, and while voice is a falling percentage of their revenue, it is still a service that is highly symbolic in terms of customer loyalty. So, how are vendors helping carriers handle the OTT challenge and what are their strategies to help them ‘get their voice back’ and gain renewed subscriber loyalty?

There are at least three distinct approaches in play:

1. Just Do It Better

This is the position adopted by most major vendors, particularly those with an IMS or VoLTE offering. For example, Nokia has showed that VoLTE services have better KPIs than OTTs and Alcatel-Lucent has positioned VoLTE as an enabler for better services, such as integrated high-definition voice, HD video and messaging. In the same vein, Mavenir Systems also emphasizes the fact that VoLTE provides a better voice service and faster call setup times as well as enabling video service. Essentially, this is about ‘beating the OTTs at their own game’ and letting subscribers make their own service choices.

2. If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

While most vendors have lined up behind Option 1, they have generally not got involved directly with OTTs. The exception is GENBAND, which actually acquired an OTT – ‘fring.’ By bringing OTT functionality in-house, the company aims to give carriers a choice of ways to handle the challenge, including operating as an OTT themselves. This would prove attractive to carriers without the resources to set up their own digital units, and in this way (and perhaps with some blending between Options 1 and 2), GENBAND could help a carrier provide an integrated offering. This is the ‘best of both worlds’ approach.

3. Wean Subscribers Off and Get Them Back

Last, and this is one of the most ambitious approaches, is an attempt not just to do better than an OTT (Option 1) or behave like an OTT (Option 2), but to actually recapture subscribers lost to OTTs. Comverse launched its Evolved Communication Suite at MWC 2014 outlining a three-stage process to do just this. The solution includes a downloadable RCS client that also (with permission) harvests social network data to help induce a subscriber, and their complete community of OTT-based contacts, to migrate back to carrier network ownership. Of all the approaches, this one aims to ‘reset the clock’ started by OTTs many years ago.

With VoLTE rollouts beginning, now is the time for operators to firm up on their OTT strategy and choose their vendors to ‘get their voice back,’ either partially or fully; it is likely their last chance.

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