Martin Geddes

The Many Markets for Voice

The need for telcos to find new ways of making money from voice services is turning from “urgent” to “imperative”. Ovum forecast a cumulative hit from OTT VoIP services of $479 billion from 2012 to 2020. If you have your favourite calmative tonic beverage to hand, take a look at the Spanish data, where average mobile revenue per line has plunged from €253 in 2007 to €169 in 2012 – and both fixed and mobile voice volumes are falling too. Don’t ask about SMS, as you’ll need prescription-only calmatives for those figures.

Given this need to find new revenues, how many ways are there to make money from voice services? I’d like to propose some different perspectives to take, and invite readers to add their own. Each ‘slant’ defines a market with its own players and structures – and has a Hypervoice opportunity attached.

Voice as an audio stream

The most familiar way in which we think of voice is as a 2-way audio media stream. It creates value just in that moment, and no other. We experience a tunnel to a distant place, albeit with an imperceptible time delay.

This market is a century old, and has a well-defined structure. You can read analyst reports on telecoms switches, session border controllers and PBXs until your eyes hurt. New entrants like Skype or WebRTC play to the same end-user value proposition: talk to someone not present. Conference calls replicate the ‘being there’ experience for groups.

Voice as business intelligence

The contact centre industry has established a deep capability to record voice conversations, and extract sentiment and intent. Who is saying what, and what might it mean? This is also a well-established market, and has players with multi-billion dollar market capitalisation.

Governments engage in the same value proposition, albeit in a clandestine manner, and have their own supply chain of voice analytic services.

Voice as workflow

In this case, voice is seen as a facet of a broader purposeful interaction that may cross several media. The Unified Communications market is the exemplar. There is also a smaller and vibrant Communications Enabled Business Process market that addresses similar needs.

This is a newer market, but the concepts are old ones, having emerged from “computer-telephony integration” in the 1980s and 1990s. There are clearly-defined segments and major players.

What about voice as a hypermedium?

Where does Hypervoice fit? Is it a distinct and new market segment, or a capability that crosses all the above segments? It has elements of each of them: new demands on (recorded) audio transport; new ways of storing and mining voice and related data; new ways of arranging our personal and working lives, and being productive. Hypervoice technology also offers future value and capabilities beyond anything currently envisioned by these players. 

My present thinking is that Hypervoice is closer to a general capability than a market segment, in a similar way to how “hypertext” was not a market in and of itself. It will have specialist technology suppliers, but they will address aspects and extensions to existing markets. Again, hypertext did not cause us to invent commerce, collaboration or search; these functions just mutated and grew. Eventually they became something that was qualitatively new and different, like social media or web services, with wholly new players and activities.

That said, there is an opportunity to radically re-think the role of voice and how we collaborate. There could be a surprise in store, as a totally new and (to most people) unexpected voice market emerges as the legacy technology and patterns of telephony collapse, and new Web-centric ones emerge. Enabling capabilities like WebRTC are extremely young and unexpected innovation in voice is virtually guaranteed. That uncertainty – over both technology and the nature of the market – is part of what makes Hypervoice fascinating and worth following!