Last week, Apple’s announcement that they would enable WiFi-based calls in iOS 8 sparked interest, but people have been enjoying free phone calls by using various OTT services for years. However, the market is currently undergoing a major shake-up, as telecom companies enter the market previously dominated by third-party VoIP apps.
Released back in 2003, Skype was among the earliest third-party apps to support Voice Over IP (VoIP) service. Although reasonably priced, the charges for calling landlines and mobile phones limited the scale of Skype’s VoIP usage, leaving the door open for other mobile apps like Tango and Viber to complete with better mobile user experiences and lower pricing. And earlier this year, a Singapore-based startup introduced Nanu, an app that supports free calls to non-Nanu users by playing a short ad over the connecting ringtone. Google also recently updated its Hangouts app to add Google Voice integration, which allows users to dial and receive VoIP calls.
The Telecom Companies
With the popularization of smartphones and high-speed mobile data connectivity, the movement towards OTT communication has reached a tipping point. Verizon and T-Mobile started with Voice over LTE (VoLTE) that allows carrying phone calls over the high-speed LTE networks. Apple’s announcement prompted major carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T to announce upcoming WiFi calling services soon after. And unlike VoIP that most third-party apps use, WiFi calling could jump from the carrier network to Wi-Fi seamlessly.
The Dark Horse
At this point, mobile carriers aren’t the only ones jumping on the OTT calling wagon— WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, is reportedly set to add Internet-based voice calls soon. And with over 600 million monthly active users, it might just become one of the major players in the increasingly saturated OTT calling market.