With the proliferation of smartphones and 4G, the debate rages over how to handle mobile VoIP and over-the-top (OTT) services such as Skype (News - Alert) Mobile. Last month South Korea set an example by allowing telcos to block access to free Internet calls if the provider deemed it necessary.
The decision by the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) in July means that, in Korea at least, OTT and VoIP can be singled out for data throttling or elimination altogether.
Providers in the U.S. are already throttling VoIP data in some cases, according to report by market research firm, Visiongain (News - Alert). This is a reactionary move that wireless providers continue at their own risk, however.
“VoIP simultaneously represents a huge threat to mobile operators as well as a significant opportunity for growth the only barrier to success lies with strategy,” Visiongain wrote in a press release about the report. “VoIP can no longer be throttled by operators, instead it must be adopted and the telecoms landscape must change in accordance.”
Given the competitive nature of the mobile landscape, bandwidth throttling and thereby harming the customer experience is a sure way for wireless providers to go out of business, agreed Mark Hukill, senior advisor at the Pacific Telecommunications Council (News - Alert).
Mobile VoIP is increasingly important not only for consumers, but also for business customers who are adopting video calls and other OTT services such as high-definition (HD) voice.
HD voice, for instance, offers businesses several benefits. The added call quality reduces fatigue because there are less dropped words that listeners must predict, acronyms are easier to understand because clarity is improved, conference calls become an easier affair as participant voices can be distinguished easily, and multicultural communication is greatly improved with clear calls.
Not all pundits think VoIP throttling is such a bad idea, however.
The KCC approach is pragmatic and balanced, according to David Kennedy, research director and principal analyst at research firm Ovum (News - Alert).“With this approach, we won't see VoIP completely blocked, but operators can arrange their pricing to ensure that VoIP users pay for their use of the network.”
While wireless providers need to stay competitive, they also need to make money. Free and unrestricted VoIP calling sounds good, of course, but it is not sustainable and would be difficult to build a revenue model around,” Kennedy noted. Better to give access but not on an unrestricted, unsustainable basis.
Kennedy noted that the KCC regulations are in line with the international trend of letting the market come up with solutions to the issue of net neutrality and what, if anything, should be restricted.
But will this stifle innovation, and will consumers stand for it? Is controlling OTT and mobile VoIP on wireless networks just another attempt by an industry to stall the inevitable revolutionary effects of the Internet?
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Edited by Brooke Neuman