As consumers, we’ve grown to expect free or cheap when it comes to mobile VoIP. That’s the selling proposition, after all.
WhatsApp isn’t gaining 1 million new users a day because it offers truly original features that other solutions can’t provide; basically WhatsApp is just a slightly more advanced chat client. Almost everyone who has a cell phone already has the ability to send text messages and instantly send each other photos.
What’s making WhatsApp popular is that it is free for the first year and it is starting to benefit from the network effect that made Facebook (News - Alert) standout from other social networking services of the time. Cheap communications is the draw, and WhatsApp is the chat program of choice because it has so many other people using it already.
Let there be no mistake that low-cost is why people use WhatsApp, though. They don’t have to worry about paying for text messages or mobile photo sending. Soon they will not have to pay for mobile calling once WhatsApp adds VoIP calling.
But what if WhatsApp stopped offering chatting and calling at a low cost? What if mobile operators began levying a toll for mobile VoIP and mobile unified communications (UC) in general? Then what?
The need to do something is apparent to everyone in the mobile telecom industry. Cheap VoIP is eating the lunch of mobile providers, as cellular service is becoming a commodity business that just serves as a delivery mechanism for the Internet.
Services such as WhatsApp eat the lunch of mobile operators, so an intriguing question is what will happen if these operators stop letting VoIP ride on their networks for free? Some providers, such as Vodacom (News - Alert), have begun charging a different rate for VoIP traffic on their network.
It remains an open question whether consumers will tolerate this discrimination and the loss of cheap VoIP services such as WhatsApp. Will this be another net neutrality debate?
It probably won’t.
Providers won’t probably accept the public relations nightmare that would be levying a toll on mobile VoIP and UC. But it is possible to squeeze these mobile VoIP operators, which in turn could force them to raise prices and depart from low-cost offerings.
Used to such services, and now with some services as ever-present as Facebook, many users would probably be ready to fork over a little money for continued use.
Rates couldn’t go too high, because frankly there are many ways that users can communicate almost exactly the way they currently do with popular mobile VoIP solutions. And it would be hard to close off the pipeline completely. But if costs were manageable, many users probably would pony up for mobile VoIP and UC options.
Only time will tell if operators will start leveraging this tactic, however. It will be a dangerous game.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi