Traditional network-based mobile carriers face the real prospect of losing a major slice of their voice traffic and revenue to new non-infrastructure players that use VoIP.

This could mean that within 10 years, more than 50 per cent of mobile voice traffic will be carried using end-to-end VoIP, according to Gartner.

Its says that the threat posed by mobile portal VoIP is likely to have a huge and direct impact on the USD $692.6 billion global mobile voice market.

If that all seems a little bleak for mobile operators, there are some bright spots.

Gartner suggest that despite the significant potential for mobile VoIP, conditions for the rapid expansion in its use are not yet right.

What’s more, the analysts reckon they aren’t likely to be so for at least five years – and perhaps not for as much as eight years.

Tole Hart, research director at Gartner, said that mass-scale adoption of end-to-end mobile VoIP calling will not happen until fourth-generation (4G) networks are fully implemented in 2017.

But he said that once the basic market conditions are in place, transition to mobile portal VoIP should be fairly rapid because of the inherent convenience and end-user cost savings.

"In 10 years time we expect that 30 per cent of mobile voice traffic will be carried out through third-party mobile portals, such as Google, Facebook, MySpace and Yahoo, which will adopt wireless VoIP service as a voice option to their current communications hub," he said.

A number of third parties, such as Skype, Truphone and fring, which carry VoIP traffic using a mobile phone, have cropped up in the past couple of years.

These offer access to voice services via Wi-Fi and/or the carriers’ wireless voice networks.

This has been the most efficient way to offer the service to date because of the inconsistencies of voice services over third-generation (3G) data networks.

However, with the advent of 4G networks (WiMAX and Long Term Evolution [LTE]), and increased use of smartphones with open operating systems, Gartner says that it is conceivable, perhaps even inevitable, that wireless voice services will be run completely over VoIP.

"Ten years from now, more than half of mobile voice traffic will be carried end-to-end using VoIP," said Akshay Sharma, research director at Gartner.

"Carriers will adopt voice services because of the increased capacity and reduced cost of delivering voice over 4G networks.

"Third parties will adopt a voice option for their communications hub."

The Gartner analysts warn that there will also be a number of factors that will inhibit the adoption of third-party, end-to-end VoIP services.

These include:

  • the delay in rolling out 4G networks because of current economic conditions
  • the general plan to put 4G only in the main cities and build out from there

Nevertheless, they conclude that in five to 10 years time, as 4G networks become common, mobile VoIP services will have a strong impact on the communications market.

Competing with mobile portal VoIP will be wireless carriers that offer circuit and VoIP voice and data services, and resellers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that also offer services off the carrier networks.

Gartner expects this opening of the VoIP channels to spawn a number of voice services from companies that offer voice services to communities using voice as a communications link.

This means that the biggest competitors to mobile VoIP may be text messaging and e-mail, as people may prefer to use these types of communication because of their non-intrusive, less emotional and less time-consuming nature.

Although the impact of the technology shift will be gradual as 4G networks roll out, Gartner advises carriers to start thinking now about how the transition will occur and how they might cooperate and partner with other types of service providers.

It suggests that third-party providers, such as Google and Yahoo, should look to offer voice services today using the carriers’ networks and Wi-Fi to leverage their portfolio of services.
Mobile social communities, such as Facebook and MySpace, which benefit from messaging traffic as it keeps eyeballs on their sites, should also have a voice option.

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