T-Mobile UK has begun testing a mobile VoIP (mVoIP) application, Clever Connect. The app will help the operator tap into the fast growing market for free or cheap internet-enabled voice calls that bypass traditional mobile operator delivery channels. It will also help mitigate the impact of disruptive technologies such as Skype on operators' core revenue generating business models. Although variable service quality and a lack of confidence in mVoIP have historically constrained adoption rates, new offerings such as Clever Connect underpin BMI's forecasts for robust growth for mVoIP.
The application - which has been developed in collaboration with Denmark-based mVoIP specialist Vopium - is to be offered to T-Mobile customers in return for user feedback, which will be used to further refine and develop the offering for a full commercial rollout. According to the operator, the application will work with devices powered by iOS4 and Android 2.2 (and later iterations) operating systems and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. Given that the app will be a direct threat to Microsoft-owned Skype, it is unlikely to appear on Windows Mobile-powered phones from various vendors, most notably Nokia.
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The appeal of mVoIP services, such as Skype, WhatsApp and Clever Connect is that voice calls are converted into IP-standard data packets which can be transported more economically than traditional voice communications. This enables call charges to be kept low. T-Mobile UK says calls between Clever Connect users will be free and that international calls will be priced at flat rates. As an example, a UK-US call via Clever Connect will cost GBP0.02 (US$0.03) a minute.
T-Mobile has previously ventured into the mobile internet telephony market, having launched its Bobsled Wi-Fi-enabled calling service in the US in mid-2011 (it reached its 1,000,000 th customer in Q212) and, subsequently, in selected European markets. Clever Connect also uses Wi-Fi to establish a connection to the IP network, but it also taps the 3G network where it is available. The software automatically selects the lowest cost route for voice calling, obviating the need for consumers to research calling options and adjusting the settings in their devices. Automating this process will go a long way to popularising technically complex applications such as mVoIP.
BMI welcomes the introduction of Clever Connect as we believe that operators must take a more proactive approach to mitigating the impact of rival OTT services and invest in native applications that can be easily installed on the devices they sell to end users. A similar approach has been taken by Telefónica of Spain, which recently launched its Tu Me unified communication app, while collaboration with Telefónica, Telecom Italia and others, with the Mozilla Foundation, to develop a next-generation handset operating system. This all should eventually result in a device-agnostic unified communications platform that can compete with closed systems such as iOS and Windows, as well as will more open - but more fragmented - platforms such as Android.
BMI forecasts the UK will be the third largest market for mVoIP usage by 2016, with 7.7mn active users. It will trail behind France (12.4mn) and Germany (17.5mn), owing to the larger size of the underlying 3G and smartphone user bases in those markets. Other countries will take longer to embrace mVoIP, owing to cheaper base rates for traditional mobile voice services or an ingrained preference for low-cost voice-only or limited data plans that do not support complex apps such as mVoIP. A lack of impetus on the part of operators in markets such as Greece, Belgium and Switzerland will also count against rapid adoption in those countries.