Is Viber the problem or the victim?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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ARE Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) providers, like Viber, the real issue or are they completely innocent bystanders being singled out to take the blame for someone else's mistakes?

It is quite understandable why telecommunications providers such as LIME and Digicel have recently had an issue with VOIP providers such as Viber.

For those of you who still don't quite get it, I'll try my best to put it in layman's terms. A VOIP call is transmitted via the Internet, and thus facilitated by the Internet/data service and not via your voice service.

Most data plans offered by telecommunications providers such as LIME and Digicel charge a packaged rate for their Internet/data service that includes up to 3GB or 4GB of data per month for subscribers to use how they see fit. The same data is what is used to view Web pages, send/receive e-mails, download/play music, send/receive instant messages using services like BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and Whatsapp.

Now, let's get to the meat of the matter. The issue that LIME and Digicel have is that, over recent times, they have experienced a drop in revenue as a result of a drop in use of voice services, which they have attributed to an increase in data services that are not as metered per usage as their voice services.

Voice services, for example, are offered at $2.99 per minute. If you make 10 minutes worth of phone calls, you pay $29.90; if you make 100 minutes worth of phone calls, you pay $299.00.

Now let's look at the data services. You pay $1,500 per month for 3GB of data. If you use 500MB (half of 1GB) or you use 2GB you pay the same $1,500.

The telecommunications firms capitalise on subscribers who buy this service and do not use it to the maximum. Take a look on your last bill or check the data usage feature on your phone and you will find, in most instances, you do not use all or most of the GB allotted to you each month. Whilst reviewing your bill, check to see when last you have been given credit for data that you have paid for but have not used.

Let's get back to the issue at hand. LIME and Digicel are not making as much money from voice calls anymore as they used to because of an increase in Internet/data usage. There are some subscribers that don't even have voice plans. Yes, that's right, they only have data plans and they communicate via the Internet, but they are not communicating solely by VOIP services such as Viber. They are also using e-mail and text messaging services such as BBM and Whatsapp. So why is Viber being singled out?

BBM and Whatsapp have been out for years, Viber has only existed since last year. Many people in Jamaica didn't even know about Viber until two or three weeks ago when this issue hit the news. Viber actually got a lot of free advertising because of this issue. They have actually seen an upsurge in their usage from Jamaica since this issue was created. Is it over the last 12 months that voice usage declined? Is it because of Viber? I don't think so.

It is because smartphones (data-enabled phones) have got more affordable and thus there has been a shift in the devices that consumers have and are using. With the increase in the use of smartphones there has been an increase in the use of data services to communicate and a decline in voice. Nobody saw that this was going to happen?

When was the last time you made a call, the person didn't answer and you left them a voicemail? Or did you hang up and send them an instant message via BBM or Whatsapp? I don't even have voicemail on my phone anymore. It's been four years. So, in the first instance when you call me and I don't answer — no connection made — no cost to you and no money to your provider. Because I have no voicemail to call and listen to my messages, less phone calls made by me, less cost to me, less revenue to my provider.

So, yes, as consumers our habits have changed. We are no longer using voice services as we used to and the telecommunications firms are feeling it. They apparently never realised that there was going to be a shift and they never planned for it. One of my college professors always told me about the five Ps — Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. I guess that somebody never took that course; they never planned properly, now they are experiencing poor performance and they want someone else to blame.




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