Monday, August 4, 2008

Will Convergence Lead to Free Voice Telephony?

In South Korea, internet telephony is poised for explosive growth over the next five years. As anyone who has experienced the convenience and economy of a service like Skype will already know, consumers are likely to go for internet telephony in droves. An article in today's Korea Times points out that the Korean government is expected to adopt number portability as early as next month. That policy will allow telephone subscribers to switch to cheaper VoIP services without changing their numbers and offer new possibilities for companies like Hanarotelecom, which has been struggling to strengthen its share in the saturated fixed-line market. Although Internet protocol television (IPTV), has been getting more attention in the Korean media, some analysts believe that VoIP offerings could make more of a difference in the competition between bundled services. The Korea Times article notes that "The local VoIP market was valued at about 255.2 billion won (about $251 million) last year, according to an estimate by IDC Korea, but forecasted to show an annual growth of about 53 percent for the next five years." With the introduction of VoIP and IPTV services in Korea, the major providers are planning to bundle services and offer steep discounts. Some are expected to offer free calls between subscribers to their VoIP service. However, the article reports that KT is not planning to do so, "... fearing a massive drop in average revenue per user (ARPU)." In fact, market pressures may force KT to offer free calling sooner rather than later. South Korea seems certain to be one of the first markets in the world to test the viability of something many analysts have predicted: free voice telephony.

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