mobile wifi, dual mode handsets and voip – my analysis

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With the success of companies such as skype, VOIP is seen to be a ‘hot’ technology. Following the hype surrounding VOIP, ‘mobile VOIP’ is also caught up in the hype cycle.

The idea is simple – cellular calls could be made over an IP network -thus saving cost.

Currently, mobile VOIP is synonymous with ‘voice over WiFi’ i.e. voice calls made over a WiFi network. Although the WiFi network is growing fast, the world is far from being a 100% WiFi enabled space. This means, mobile VOIP suffers from the physical limitations of being near a WiFi hotspot.

The requirement of being near a WiFi hotspot plus the high cost of Mobile WiFi handsets, means that mobile WiFi is currently a niche technology. It’s initial deployment is expected to be in the enterprise or within hotspots.

The real potential of mobile VOIP lies in the use of dual mode handsets. Dual mode handsets support the seamless handover between a cellular(in practise 3G and beyond) network and a WiFi network. The technologies used in this space are currently being defined for example – Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) and the Mobile Integrated Go-to-Market Network IP Telephony Experience (MobileIGNITE) alliance.

Predictably, the incumbents such as mobile operators, are reluctant to support mobile VOIP because it’s a threat to their existing business(mobile voice calls). However, companies from outside the

existing value chain are keen to promote mobile VOIP. Most notably fixed line operators and handset manufacturers

However, the biggest barriers to the uptake of mobile VOIP is the pricing for IP traffic. I believe that the technology will really take off only when cheap, ‘unlimited use’ IP traffic becomes possible.

Thus, as with so many services in the mobile data industry, the barriers are not technological but commercial. There is no doubt that mobile VOIP will have a part to play in the evolution of mobility in general. Its eventual success and role will depend on a range of technical and commercial factors some of which are outlined above. However, its real significance lies in the fact that it will put a downward pressure on voice call prices (which is still the mainstay of income for mobile operators).

If cheap unlimited use bandwidth becomes a possibility then the market may well take off in other directions. For example – it could be possible to make voice calls from a 3G network through an IP client on the phone without going through a dual mode handset etc. The success of such schemes depends on low costs for IP traffic. However, note that the technology exists even today to make this possible.

Ironically, the mobile network itself is shifting to an IP core with technologies like IMS. When that happens, it should be possible to make end to end VOIP calls!

What’s your view? Is this balanced enough or have I missed something?