The Fall and Rise of Voice

As a growth strategy for the telecom industry, focusing investment on mobility and data services while withdrawing it from wireline voice is doomed to fail. The rise of Twitter, Facebook and texting teens does not change the fact that people still depend on voice for the vast majority of their communication needs. And a single phone model for communication makes as much as sense as a single shoe model for footwear.

The future of the telecom industry lies not in mobility or data services but in leveraging voice as the best means of conveying “social energy.” The notion of social energy — aka human connection — was emphasized in John Bowlby’s attachment theory circa 1940 and again in Abraham Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of needs, from 1943. Bowlby argued that human connection is not optional, while Maslow ranked human connection as No. 3 out of five basic needs motivating human behavior. But while the pursuit of social energy drives the growth of Twitter, Facebook and the as-yet unknown next big thing in communication, it also serves to make even the presently problematic voice industry a multitrillion-dollar global business.

And although President Obama suffers the same mediocre voice quality in conversations with world leaders as teens planning their social agenda do, even a standard telephone call represents the next best thing to being there relative to text or non real-time options. The question is not whether existing uses of the telephone might benefit from voice quality improvements, which, by definition, consist of only those activities one can accomplish in spite of the limitations. The question is whether the implementation of high-definition voice and other changes might make the telephone useful in contexts that presently require getting together in person. Orange’s announced plans to offer HD voice in 2010 as a competitive tool against O2 in the UK will provide an opportunity to put this question to the test.

Indeed, the notion of social energy provides a ready road map for telco innovation. To that end, FWD, where I am CEO, has launched a VoIP trial dubbed Nova which leverages HD (G.722)-capable SIP end points to create the communication equivalent of a web site. Indeed, the declining demand for voice services make clear the need to create more compelling voice offers, but the notion of a telephone company without voice is like a music industry without music.

In-post image courtesy of Flickr user garryknight; thumbnail image of user Don Fulano.