What Today’s Mobile Voice Apps Can Learn from Yesterday’s Telecom

October 10, 2013 No Comments

Those that don’t learn from the past are fated to repeat it.  Over-the-Top (OTT) communications providers like WhatsApp are presented as representative of telecom’s bright, shiny future.  But they have a ways to go before they can truly replace the established incumbents.  Of the hundreds of millions of telephone numbers in use in the U.S., only a small fraction of them are used in OTT applications. What would it take for OTTs to really begin replacing incumbent telecom providers today?

While OTT startups get their fair share of publicity (and rightfully so), there is a great deal to emulate from traditional telecom. There is a reason that it’s one of the most stable, established industries in the world. Here are a few lessons for the latest and greatest voice apps out there:

Don’t forget the phone number.

Don’t come up with an app that requires users to change their number or get a new one.  Figure out a way to let them use your app while keeping the number they have.

No Walled Gardens.

At the end of the day, voice connectivity and inter-device/network/app communication depends on interoperability.  Interoperability depends on standards.  Standards depend on competitors getting together to agree on how they will work together.  If your app only lets your users communicate with others who are only using your app – your opportunity for growth ends once the walls of your garden are reached. To become truly interoperable, OTT needs to create a gate from which users can interact with the world outside.

Think about emergency response.

When it comes to 9-1-1, the Scout’s motto is paramount – be prepared. But to date, many OTT providers operate within a gray area of existing 9-1-1 requirements.  While OTTs can take the position they follow the letter of the law, it’s harder to argue they follow its spirit. Until OTT providers embrace their 911 responsibility, consumers will be left with little option but to continue to keep a landline or wireless phone.

Think about creating value, not lowering cost.

There’s a reason that most of us still pay for communications alongside using free OTT apps – and in fact, it’s the package of convenience and value-add services we have come to expect and pay for that provide revenue for the traditional telecommunication providers. Look at caller ID and voicemail, there was a time we paid an extra $5 / month for these services – they were convenient and useful.  Now it’s location and security services, and multi-device experiences.  There continues to be an opportunity for OTTs to develop and be first to market with valuable and convenient features and charge for it.  Before defaulting to a model based entirely on free services, think hard about the value you bring and don’t be afraid to charge accordingly.

At the end of the day, telecommunications has been a successful industry for a reason. While OTT apps may be the latest and greatest technology on the block, there’s a broader mandate for these providers to deliver more than a low-cost voice option. Once these providers focus on quality, value and standards, then all of telecommunications will be better off for it.

Jason Sommerset 150x150 What Today’s Mobile Voice Apps Can Learn from Yesterday’s Telecom

Jason Sommerset is the director of product development for Bandwidth, where he is responsible for evaluating and defining new products for one of the largest telecommunications providers in the U.S. In the past 15 years working in wireless and mobile industry, Jason has held a variety of roles leading product development, marketing and consulting with companies such as Motricity, AT&T Wireless and Accenture.  Reach Jason at jsommerset@bandwidth.com


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