Smartphone apps a fertile new market for voice as mVoIP providers broaden horizons

Last month’s news from mobile VoIP service provider Rebtel that it is opening its API to third party providers and app developers could have important implications for both the voice industry and for the wider communications environment. Certainly, this is an area where other mVoIP operators could follow suit. By providing a platform whereby smartphone apps and desktop programs may be “voice-enabled”, Rebtel opens the door for voice to become just another feature which can be built into an app by clever developers. Rebtel claims the largest mobile VoIP user base after Skype and states that its SDK (software development kit) should allow voice to be integrated into an app in just 15 minutes. This should allow any competent app developer to add a live calling feature to an app. Apps which would benefit from such “app-enablement” include gaming apps and apps that offer social networking features such as picture sharing. Rebtel CEO Andreas Bernstrom says that the company’s voice platform is “a game-changing tool for developers,” by allowing content publishers and smartphone developers to enrich their applications with a voice layer, increasing usage and appeal. Launch partners for the voice service include VIVfone (a mobile CRM app) and MobisleApps, an app development company based in Stockholm that develops apps in the lifestyle, dating, and productivity categories. Though such developments take time to become main-stream, for Juniper Research the concept of app voice-enablement is undoubtedly one of the most important developments in the voice market last year, not least because it further undermines the special status that voice still has and makes it harder for traditional operators to charge a premium for voice services. It also broadens mobile VoIP usage and allows the OTT model (where traffic is carried over carriers networks without their necessarily benefitting from voice revenues) to become more widespread. Indeed Juniper Research forecasts that there will be over 1 billion users of over the top (OTT) mobile VoIP services by 2017, reflecting a dramatic shift in how voice traffic is carried over the next five years. This important change in the market will be driven by improvements in network technology, increased competition and the move by telcos to join the OTT space.