Cloud computing and mobile VoIP

Mobile VoIP (mobile Voice-over-IP) can be categorized as a Cloud service if it provisioned through SIP gateways that smartphones running VoIP clients connect to. Juniper Research expects that mVoIP will grow from 15 billion minutes this year to 470 billion minutes by 2015 – that’s multiplying the current number with 31.

It’s been suggested by many, and also hotly debated, that mVoIP is the number one threat that mobile network operators (MNOs) are currently facing – causing a significant pressure on their current business models, i.e. primarily resulting from selling mobile voice minutes. But how exactly will mVoIP be enabled by cloud computing?

Basically, mVoIP can be implemented and used in two different ways. Either a mobile device (smartphone) is used as a SIP client (SIP is a signaling protocol) that uses a data network to send and receive SIP messages and to send/receive RTP voice packets (RTP is a standardized packet format for delivering audio and video over a IP-network) or, a SIP gateway is used to bridge SIP and RTP into the mobile network’s SS7 infrastructure. For supporting mVoIP, high-speed IP-networks are used, including Wi-Fi and 3G/4G mobile networks.

Most smartphones today offer both mobile and Wi-Fi interfaces and can be adjusted to prefer connections to a Wi-Fi network, e.g. a hot-spot, when in range and given adequate bandwidth or service quality. There are basically three scenarios for mVoIP that users can choose from, depending upon the type of device, and device status, they are calling to on the other end:

  1. A smartphone user calls from his mVoIP enabled smartphone over a Wi-Fi network to another wireless device connected to a Wi-Fi, either another mVoIP enabled smartphone or other Wi-Fi enabled device, e.g. Apple iTouch or a PC, etc. The limitations are that devices at both ends need to have a client installed from the same service provider, e.g. Skype or TruPhone. In this case the call is transferred via the Internet and the mobile network is bypassed entirely, meaning the MNO gets no mobile traffic revenues.
  2. Secondly, a user calls from his smartphone’s VoIP client to a regular phone number, either fixed or mobile, anywhere in the world. In this case the caller must have purchased VoIP “minutes” from the service provider, e.g. “Skype Out”. The MNO gets some revenues from the VoIP service provider, e.g. Skype, for the mobile minutes sold to the service provider, most probably in wholesale.
  3. Lastly, a user calls from his smartphone’s VoIP client to another smartphone with a similar or equal client and both smartphones are connected to the mobile network, i.e. 3G network. In this case the MNO only receives some revenues from data services, i.e. no charges for mobile minutes.

From a pure end-user price perspective, and especially for international calls, mVoIP services of this type is win out in most comparison.

However, there are limitations to mVoIP services, especially from the cloud based service providers like Skype, TruPhones and others. These services are not part of the global numbering plan, meaning that the VoIP client does not receive a regular mobile phone number. On the other hand, many telecom operator have implemented their own VoIP platforms, although still not many mVoIP platforms, and integrated to their numbering plan. Those services are mostly for international calling.

With more and more cloud service providers integrating mVoIP into their service offerings, including SaaS providers like Facebook and Google, it seems evident that mVoIP will play a major role in the future. Whether it is going to completely transform the way we use the mobile telephone still remains to be seen.