Analyst sees big future for VoIP-over-3G

Operators will invest more in running internet telephony over their 3G networks than in voice-over-Wi-Fi options, according to analyst Dean Bubley

VoIP-over-3G will be far more successful than the voice-over-Wi-Fi approach being touted by many communications providers, a new report suggests.

According to analyst Dean Bubley, of Disruptive Analysis, there could be over 250 million "VoIPo3G" users by the end of 2012. Because operators tend to block such use, hardly anyone uses the technology in this way at the moment.

However, according to the VoIPo3G Business Models report, which was produced by Bubley's company and released on Tuesday, the operators themselves will be the ones to drive the growth of the technology. This, claims Bubley, will be because operators will want to fit as many calls as possible into their spectrum allocations. They may also want to launch new mobile "mashup" IP services involving voice, he said.

Reducing operating expenses by combining fixed and mobile networks is another key driver for operators and users alike, Bubley said, but the strongest push in this direction is currently coming through so-called fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) — where a handset replaces the deskphone by operating over 3G while out of the office, and over Wi-Fi where coverage permits.

However, as Bubley suggested to ZDNet.co.uk on Friday, voice-over-Wi-Fi "doesn't do anything about your costs when you're out of range of Wi-Fi".

"A lot of calls are made away from Wi-Fi and on handsets without Wi-Fi in them," said Bubley. "The [voice-over-Wi-Fi market] will continue to grow, but I don't think it will become as popular as Bluetooth because of its software complexity". This complexity, he added, is because businesses control their own Wi-Fi networks for security reasons, thus reducing operators' control over the interplay between that Wi-Fi and their handsets.

Another crucial factor, said Bubley, is that upcoming communications standards such as LTE (the intended long-term evolution of 3G) and WiMax are "all-IP, so if you [an operator] are going to deploy them, you are going to have to use VoIP — unless you are happy to have a parallel circuit-switched network in perpetuity".

The rise of 3G-enabled laptops would be another factor, claimed Bubley. "I see operators becoming somewhere between 'accepting' and 'resigned to it' on laptops — it is very difficult to say 'It's just like DSL, but you can't use Skype'," he said. "The attitude among some operators is that, if there's going to be PC-based VoIP, it might as well be our PC-based VoIP."

Bubley suggested that VoIP may not become standard on 3G handsets for "quite a few years", partly because of the need to further extend battery. However, he pointed out that some non-traditional voice services such as push-to-talk were about to be transitioned onto 3G networks early next year by operators such as Sprint in the US.

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