If stock voice communication isn't quite free yet, it is on a path to reaching zero cost within the next five years over IP-based networks, including both wireless and wireline. Already numerous over-the-top (OTT) services offer no-cost peer-to-peer voice services, ranging from all-software approaches such as Skype to client hardware-based OTT networks like Ooma. Future profits and margins will have to come from value-added services layered on top of baseline voice.
Ooma may represent a template for the brave new world of value-added voice. For around $150 in off-the-shelf hardware, Ooma provides free U.S. nationwide calling. Period, end of story. Costs to terminate local and long-distance voice calls are so cheap that there's enough room between hardware sales and profits from add-on services to cover the bills, with Ooma Basic customers getting voice mail, caller ID, call-waiting.
Value-added services from Ooma's Premiere service at $9.99 per month include the addition of a second line, free calling to Canada, three-way calling, a do-not-disturb button, a community and personal blacklists for pesky callers, voicemail monitoring and other features. Unlimited voicemail to text currently is $4.99 per month, but I suspect that charge will go down over time.
Ooma's consumer business model should be applicable in both method and pricing to existing cable and IP landline (copper and fiber) services. Carriers will substitute more generic CAT-iq 2.0 wireless DECT hardware for the Ooma third-party IP gateway and phones; CAT-iq 2.0 is already being extensively deployed in Europe and blessed by CableLabs for HD voice delivery.
Business voice will continue to be where the "real" money is at. Carriers will continue to charge more on a per line/per seat basis than a consumer landline, but part of that higher price includes the lease for an IP desktop phone and an expectation of higher quality service. BYOP (Bring your own phone) sounds like a good idea in theory, but carriers can simplify installation and support by focusing on a narrow line of devices.
Given the plummeting per minute cost of long distance and even international calling, carriers will need to step up their game in value-added service offerings. UC and call center offerings have become de rigueur in the SMB sector, so service providers and solution vendors alike will have to move enterprise-style offerings into the cloud for faster, scalable deployment. Call recording, voice biometrics, and voice analytics are examples of enterprise services that in some cases are already quietly moving "down market" from big business into the SMB world.
Finally, value-add business voice services will be available and applicable to any device -- mobile or desktop. If anything, voice biometrics and Hypervoice technologies are necessary and needed tools for mobile workers because of the advantages they provide in security and documentation of voice calls.
Edited by Alisen Downey