Mark Windle, head of Marketing, OpenCloud, says Wi-Fi calling one year ago was a service offered by a small number of operators, available to subscribers through a third party application as an adjunct to their regular voice calling service.
Over the past year the service has evolved dramatically and has been integrated into the voice propositions of numerous operators across Europe and the US, and more recently, Asia.
In Asia, Telkomsel, SmarTone and 3 Hong Kong have all launched Wi-Fi calling services recently, available on specific handsets. The service has been driven to market at a speed uncharacteristic of mobile operators, akin to the speed of OTT and internet players. However, launching the service is one thing, for long-term success, operators must deploy it with the ability to evolve, iterate and improve it as the market dictates change.
A voice to be reckoned with
Wi-Fi calling may be a new service but it has great value for mobile operators and subscribers alike. For the operator, it offers a means to offload cellular capacity onto Wi-Fi to provide a more ubiquitous calling service, and generate revenue in situations where users have traditionally turned to OTT applications like Skype. For subscribers, it offers them voice and video calling services through their operator, in places that offer Wi-Fi and have poor cellular coverage, keeping them better connected. This is particularly valuable for subscribers using video and voice services over Wi-Fi abroad, as they are not subjected to traditional roaming fees.
Given these benefits, it is no surprise that operators are rapidly deploying the service. Working in the operators’ favour, Wi-Fi calling’s fast conception has been aided by the fact that it has not been delayed from multiple rounds of industry standardisation. Although some standards exist that define how it should be supported natively on a handset, the broader design of how it should be integrated into an operators network has not yet been specified. This model of innovation before standardisation is a welcome move for telecoms, allowing a faster, less expensive route to market.
This opportunity brings mobile operators a step closer to OTT providers such as Google and Facebook, who are constantly developing and rolling-out new services to meet changing market demand. They own the service and the technology, and can modify these software based services as and when they please.
If mobile operators are to continue innovating at the same rate as OTT players they must be aware that their services require continual adaptation and re-iteration in order to be successful. The speed at which operators have launched Wi-Fi calling is promising, however the success of a service requires evolution; technical changes, customer requirements, usage variation and functionality upgrades are all reasons why a service may need to be adapted during its lifetime. Furthermore, operators must be mindful that industry standardisation may also become necessary. There is significant value in a worldwide system of interconnected and interoperating networks. This will produce an additional series of adaptations required for standards compliance in due course.
The right option for Wi-Fi calling evolution
This evolution and adaptation of a Wi-Fi calling service will be extremely problematic if operators implement traditional proprietary solutions. Such solutions are extremely hard to adjust and require the operator to implement a “change request” through the product vendor. Typically, these changes are expensive and slow, making agile service differentiation extremely difficult, both financially and practically. When selecting a Wi-Fi calling solution, the total cost of ownership must be considered. So should the benefits of meeting new technical and market requirements as they arise. Simply minimising initial costs may be tempting but early savings are likely to fall short of the total saving and additional value delivered by a flexible, adaptable solution.
This is why open, flexible solutions should be the first choice for any operator looking to bring a Wi-Fi calling service to market. These solutions offer a much more agile and cost-effective model for creating new iterations of the service, or improving it with additional functionality as the market demands. With open solutions, operators can own the change process completely, using in-house developers or selecting developer partners from an open, free market in order to hit the timescales they need for a budget they can afford.
Wi-Fi calling is making tracks into new markets and Asia is no exception. Given the wide range of benefits of the service, operators will be eager to launch it as quickly as possible to convince subscribers that they have the best service on the market. However, careful consideration of how the solutions will need to evolve is required if operators are to avoid getting stuck with out-dated systems and hefty upgrade costs. A huge opportunity awaits operators that launch a Wi-Fi calling service on an open platform that can be enhanced as and when change is required.
Mark Windle, head of Marketing, OpenCloud