Mobile voice will carry on, but not as we know it

Apple is due to launch its latest iPhone today, and with uncanny timing Deloitte has also released latest updates of its annual Mobile Consumer report, including one for the UK market. The report highlights our growing usage and reliance on smartphones, which apparently UK users collectively check over 1 billion times a day. What's more, 55 per cent say they check their phones within five minutes of waking and 28 per cent do so just before they go to sleep.

The report also illustrates that making calls on mobile phones appears to be going the way of red phone boxes, Wimpy hamburger chains and watching a TV programme when it was actually scheduled.

According to the report, three years ago almost all smartphone owners made at least one call per week. Now, 25 per cent of smartphone users have become data-exclusive, in a given week. If the rate of decline continues at the same pace, almost half of smartphone owners would not be making traditional voice calls weekly by mid-2018, Deloitte said.

Furthermore, it is not just private conversations that are being replaced by the growing number of ways to communicate without speaking. "An app can replace the calls we would have formerly made to order a take-away, request a taxi, book an appointment or make a bank transfer," the report said.

In many ways, the report paints a rather bleak picture of a world in which we sit silently, heads down, communicating with others without any outward visible signs. The notion of two people texting or sending Snapchat messages to each other over dinner no longer seems such a bizarre scenario.

"Is it game over for voice?" Deloitte asks. Apparently not: voice will survive, but not as we know it.

"We expect usage of standard voice calls in the form of circuit-based calls to diminish steadily in popularity over time. But spoken conversations are very unlikely to disappear from smartphones, rather they will migrate to apps and also new forms of operator-managed voice services," the research company said.

Deloitte like many expects to see a growing proportion of calls carried over emerging voice services, voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) and voice over LTE (VoLTE), as well as the existing VoIP apps.

"OTT VoIP may impact operators' bottom line in the long term. However, VoLTE could offset a potential decline in revenue, even if consumers do not end up paying more for VoLTE services," the research company said.

At the same time, Deloitte warns operators not to rush into VoLTE: If an operator were to launch too early in any regard, for example with too little of the market covered by 4G, users may quickly give up trying to use the new functionality.--Anne