Friday, April 27, 2012

A renaissance for voice?

In a recent TED talk, psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle warned that “we have sacrificed conversation for connection.” At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work, executives text during board meetings. “We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being ‘alone together.” Turkle says. “Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be.”

One of the points Turkle is trying to make is that our little “sips” of online connection don’t add up to a big gulp of real conversation. And she wants us to have real conversations, to take the time to really get to know people around us. Ideally face-to-face.

Of course, Turkle’s view did not go unchallenged. Businessweek said she was “proposing a false dichotomy, as though all the online communication we engage in somehow takes the place of “real-world” conversation. It’s like an updated version of the old image of young people sitting alone in their basements playing video games instead of going out to meet their friends in the “real” world.” And a recent blogpost on stated that “the brevity, improvisation and in-the-moment quality of e-mails and texts are those grand old defining qualities of spoken language. Keyboard technology, allowing us to produce and receive written communication with unprecedented speed, allows something hitherto unknown to humanity: written conversation. In this sense, they are not “writing” in the sense we are accustomed to. They are fingered speech.”

But getting back to Sherry Turkle. While there is no doubt that she has some very real points, there is another dimension to our use of technology as well – and that is that our mobile devices originated as mediums for us to talk to each other.

It is common for dominant trends and behavior patterns to give rise to a pendulum effect: a strong surge to do the opposite. Perhaps the behavior Turkle is pointing to (our incessant texting, e-mailing and social networking) will create a need to do the opposite: to have long spoken conversations.

And although face-to-face conversations might be the best, the reality of the matter is that in modern society, we live too far apart to meet many of our friends and families in person. Which is why the phone will continue to be an important tool for conversation.

Perhaps we will see a renaissance for voice services in the next few years, as we step out from our bubbles of connectivity with a hunger for conversation?

What do you think?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Is this the year of HD voice in the US? Or do we wait until next year?

Sprint announced a HD voice handset – the HTC Evo – last week, the first time the technology has gotten any real attention in the US, especially from mainstream media outlets like Time and Consumer Reports

Plus, ABI Research predicts that both Verizon and MetroPCS will soon bring HD voice (and VoLTE) handsets to market as well, as most US operators will apparently tie HD voice rollout tightly to the introduction of VoLTE.

So is HD voice finally taking off in the US, where it has lagged? Jim Eller at ABI thinks so:
“The demand for HD Voice in VoLTE phones will provide the critical mass necessary to encourage the device manufacturers to produce large quantities of phone models with HD Voice, which should lead to widespread adoption.”

We asked this same question on Twitter and got this (cleaned up) response from HD Voice guru Doug Mohney of HD Voice News:

“2012 year of HD voice? For North America, maybe 2013. Europe's year of HD voice is now.”

And lest we forget why HD voice has the potential to add such value to operator offerings, here is a 2011 clip from Orange, a pioneer that rolled out HD voice in the UK way back in 2010 and currently runs about one-third of all HD voice networks:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meeting the OTT threat

The threat to operators from OTT players like, for example, Skype and Viber, is two-fold: they cut into operators’ voice-generated revenues and hog bandwidth in the networks.

A large number of operators have opted not to do anything to meet this threat – or at least they don’t actively fight it, and allow the traffic through their networks. Others have been more active in developing reactive strategies.

There are several examples of operators collaborating with OTT players. A fairly standard approach is to offer your subscribers access to OTT services like Skype – as, for example, 3UK does. Another example is Sprint, which offers its customers Google Voice.

Another way of dealing with OTT players is to become one yourself. Telefónica provides an example: In 2009 it bought Jajah, a competitor to Skype, and thus became a player in the OTT market.

There are also some operators that are looking at charging their customers for VoIP services – for example, TeliaSonera. At this year’s MWC, their VP of Service development, Tommy Ljunggren, said:  “If you want to use those services on our network, you have to pay; if you don’t, those services won’t work”. Similar messages have caused some stirrings in the operator’s Swedish home market. Håkan Dahlström, Head of Business Unit Mobility Services, said in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter (article in Swedish) “There is a perception today that everything IP-based should be free. But we are going to charge for mobile voice calls, even if they are VoIP”. And through its Spanish subsidiary Yoigo, TeliaSonera is already charging for premium VoIP services.

But there is a dual drawback to charging customers: As Royal KPN in the Netherlands discovered, consumers may react strongly and that can lead to discussions about net neutrality and even legislation that operators do not like. Secondly, and more importantly, customers may take their business elsewhere – because there is almost always a competitor or two ready to offer unlimited data use, flat fees and so on. 

The operators that are not doing anything yet might be developing other strategies. Or they may be waiting to find out if there is a winning strategy for dealing with OTT players. Perhaps that winning strategy is a combination of collaboration and competition – we might call it “coopetition”.

What do you think?