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Is enhanced voice the new mobile data?

Operators missing a trick?

In all the rush from mobile operators and the rest of the telecoms industry to mobile data services and the mobile Internet, it's possible that a new revenue opportunity has been missed - voice. Ok, you may say it's not that new, but as all good marketing types know, line extension is typically more rewarding than leaping straight into brand new markets and looking for new customers.

Sure there's a market at some point for compelling, well-delivered, fairly-priced mobile data services, but for an industry looking for something in the short term to reverse the trend of shrinking average revenue per user, extending the current voice services would seem like a logical step. This is especially true when you consider which customers the mobile industry has most neglected - businesses and enterprises.

Whilst the industry has successfully line-extended into one-shot revenue from peripheral services such as ringtones and wallpapers, little has been done to grow the opportunities to gather increased revenue from basic business communication. Even in the highly successful market of text messages, most of the revenues are from consumers. Enterprise mobile communication is a neglected segment. The one exception being mobile email, but that too is still in its pre-chasm market.

So what sort of enhancement to voice services?

There are several opportunities, and a good place to start is with mobile voicemail. It's become a fundamental service for almost all mobile phone users. For some it might only be a good place to hide, but it also provides someplace to go when the recipient's phone is outside coverage. However, it's not necessarily the easiest of services to navigate. Being told you have ten messages isn't very helpful when it turns out the one you really need to listen and respond to first is number ten. Using some of the other functionality that comes free on today's mobile phones, such as the screenful of graphics, could so easily enhance this.

Voicemail systems have been relatively expensive to deploy, partly because the solutions have been proprietary and partly because they are not often regarded as crucial services in their own right. They are more often perceived as a minor add on to the sale, especially when offered as part of the total package by a major infrastructure manufacturer. However, some things are changing, as the open systems approach of the Internet Protocol, IP, worms its way through the telecom infrastructure.

Open standards and protocols help drive down prices and increase opportunities for more specialist companies to be involved, adding new value to the services. One company thriving here is Swedish-based, Mobeon. Its approach, from a background of unified messaging, has been to provide a rich voicemail experience and further products encompassing videomail, faxmail and mobile email.

This multiple message medium focus is very promising, but a major challenge with any telecom system is scaling, and this is always tougher when IP is involved. Mobeon have worked closely with their channel partners, Fujitsu Siemens, and especially, Ericsson. The combination of a compact, focussed and sales aware company like Mobeon with a large, stable, carrier grade supplier provides a solution that scales to millions of users with the flexibility of open systems.

Timing is everything, and the combination of IP, scale and focus is happening at the time when many current voicemail systems are depreciated and ripe for replacement. The impact of open systems has the potential to reduce costs almost by an order of magnitude, and this puts the replacement costs close to those for ongoing maintenance.

So reduced voicemail costs is a good thing for enterprise customers as well as consumers, but if Mobeon can continue to drive a smart user experience and voicemail as network service, this could lead to strong growth in usage and increased revenues for operators. The smart user experience would be to make the service available from other mobile devices than mobile phones, such as laptops and even fixed devices like desktop PCs.

Unifying the message system is significant part of the value of IP, user choice and flexibility is also key, and who knows, an easy to use unified media-mail service that's accessible from more than one class of device could be just what operators need for the enterprise.


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