Pushing IP voice calls across cellular data networks: It's technically feasible, but the business model has always been tricky, with carriers ever anxious to maintain the financially rewarding model of billing voice and data as distinct plans.
Now that distinction may be breaking down, with one top tier carrier poised to allow the use of VoIP via GSM, or voice within its data network. A third-party partner would bill voice and data use as a single plan, with the carrier taking a share of the usage fee in exchange for the use of its network.
Such is the deal announced recently by VoX Communications Corp. (a subsidiary of Pervasip Corp.) and Unified Technologies Group (UTGI), who say they will team with a leading mobile network, as yet unnamed.
In the big picture, the model being established here could potentially change the rules of the game, pushing carriers to look beyond the traditional separation of voice and data, said VoX founder and CIO Mark Richards.
"This is a first step over the divide, with the end result being that major carriers all migrate to a data network, so that the voice network with all its complexities eventually goes away," he said. "It is potentially that invasive."
When the offering goes livebefore the end of the yearUTGI will charge users $69.95 for unlimited voice and data, including taxes and fees, according to CEO Ben Piilani. The carrier will be named then.
The product will be sold under the band name Zer01, and while UTGI already has over 100 distributors signed on, Piilani said the company is searching for more.
"Our biggest challenge is in notifying the general public. Most of our distributors already have business-to-business relationships in place and affinity groups, but even those relationships still don't get us all the way to the general public." He's looking to word of mouth to help get the ball rolling.
VoX meanwhile will be there to handle the nuts and bolts: managing the SIP signaling, providing phone numbers, managing origination and termination, delivering number portability, provisional DID servicing, emergency services, caller ID, three-way calling and other services.
Richards said that, while this initial effort will rely on the network of a tier one carrier, in the long run it may be the smaller carriers who benefit most from such arrangements.
It's hard right now for smaller carriers to out-market tier one carriers in the effort to woo customers. By allowing voice traffic over data lines under a revenue sharing plan, smaller players might lose revenue-per-capita, but they also stand to pick up considerably more customers with the promise of a cost-effective offering. "The alternative is to lose the entire revenue stream to a larger marketing machine," Richards said.
Above and beyond the business model, UTGI is bringing to the table technical savvy, in the form of a software solution to a problem that has long plagued the mobile environment, Piilani said. There's too much fragmentation, he said, with 200 device makers, 20 operating systems.
"We've seen from other demonstrable projects like Fring and Trufone that VoIP is able to be done over a mobile device, but there are a lot of issues in the mobile environment," he said. Part of UTGI's offering involves the ability to cut across the clutter in order to make it simple for carriers to transport data efficiently across diverse variables.
The software likewise has been built with stability in mind, loaded with features that automatically seek out the most stable configurations. Developers have built in the capacity to change codecs, modify bandwidth compressions, "whatever needs to happen for it to be stable in a mobile situation," Piilani said.
This striving for stability also helped inform UTGI's decision to work with VoX as a partner on this project. In the first place, VoX has geographic redundancy in its resources, offering some reassurance that service will remain consistent even in the face of unexpected events.
At the same time, Piilani noted, VoX's tools all have been developed in house, making it relatively easy to tweak capabilities as needed to suit UTGI's needs. "They were able to customize it exactly the way we needed it to be," he said.