International voice traffic spikes 20% during COVID-19

Roaming traffic might be down substantially, but industry association i3Forum is reporting a surge in the number and duration of international calls.

International roaming traffic dropping in the region of 30% during the coronavirus pandemic, though international voice traffic increased 20% year-on-year in March, while the duration of phone calls was up 30% in March and over 60% in April 2020 compared to 2019.

“Changing user behaviours, resulting from the move to remote working and ‘stay at home’ orders, have had an immediate impact on the international voice market,” said Philippe Millet, Chairman of i3forum.

“i3forum Insights has seen an initial spike in traffic in March then a return to regular traffic volumes in April, albeit with different patterns as people have adapted to new social and working situations. What is striking is the growth in call duration. Calls are longer and that compensated for the decline in number of calls.”

Although the increased call volume is unlikely to compensate for the falling revenues attributed to roaming, it is another example of shifting consumer behaviour during the COVID-19 period. The world is slowly returning to some semblance of normality, but it is always worth remembering that some of the coronavirus behaviours will stick.

The extremity of today’s work from home dynamic will not persist, but some of the lessons learned will. Businesses can function without being in the office every single day and cloud technologies do have advantages. These behaviours will have an impact on telco operations, and although this lock-down period will not persist indefinitely, telcos are fooling themselves if they think the world will return completely to the pre-COVID-19 days.

Brits have the lowest mobile download speed among G7 users

New report on mobile experience from Opensignal shows the UK has the lowest average download speed among the G7 countries, and it has barely improved since a year ago.

The user experience measurement company has just published its 2020 report to compare mobile experience in 100 countries across six domains: upload and download speed, video, voice and games experience, and 4G availability. On all parameters the UK has delivered a respectable but not spectacular performance.

In download speed, the UK ranks 36 out of the 100 countries, with an average 22.9 Mbps. This puts the UK on the bottom of the G7 countries. The minor improvement of 1.2 Mbps over last year’s 21.7 Mbps is also the most meagre incremental among the G7 countries. Globally, Canada just manages to edge South Korea to the top spot with 59.6 Mbps, a whopping 17.1 Mbps increase from a year ago. South Korea, which topped last year’s table, has clocked up an average download speed of 59.0 Mbps and sits in second place.

The authors of the report observed that, countries that have launched 5G services typically registered higher download speed and registered bigger increase than those that have not. However, with the exception of South Korea, where 5G penetration is approaching 10% of mobile users, 5G’s lifting impact on average download speeds in other countries is minimal. Surprisingly, among the 5G countries, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway all reported average download speed decrease. The report does not say why, and by the time of writing, Opensignal has not responded to Telecoms.com’s request for explanation. In a separate research published earlier the company compared 5G download speeds in different countries. Saudi Arabia led with 291 Mbps, followed by South Korea at 224 Mbps.

The G7 Comparison

The UK’s 7.5 Mbps average upload speed gives it a mid-table position. Switzerland leads with 16.2 Mbps, followed by South Korea (16.1 Mbps), Norway (15.7 Mbps), and Singapore (15.0 Mbps).

In video streaming experience, by which the company consolidates scores on picture quality, video loading time, stall rate, as well as perceived video experience as reported by mobile video users, the UK sits in the “Very Good” category with a score of 71.7 (out of a total of 100). The “Excellent” category, with scores over 75, has 15 countries, led by the Czech Republic with 79.1.

When it comes to 4G availability, UK mobile users were able to connect to 4G networks 89.2% of the time, up by 4.5% from a year ago, putting the country on position 31 in the table. Japan sits on the top with 98.5% availability closely followed by South Korea at 98.1%.

In games experience, the company measures how mobile users experience real-time multiplayer mobile gaming on mobile networks including latency, packet loss, and jitter. The Netherlands comes top in this category with 85.2 (out of a total of 100), edging the Czech Republic to the second place with a score of 85.1. The UK, with a score of 77.5, ranks among the better ones but is still trailing the best countries by a sizeable margin.

The last category measured in the Opensignal report is voice app experience, by which the company measures the quality of experience of OTT voice services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger. Again, the score consolidates both technical measurements and perceived experience. South Korea leads the table with 84.0 (out of 100). Japans comes a close second with 83.8. The UK’s 80.6 is among the better scores.

In general, to look at it globally, UK mobile users enjoy a better than average experience across multiple categories. Meanwhile the benefits of 5G have yet to visibly spread more broadly. In the 5G research published by Opensignal, the UK’s 5G smartphones only connect to 5G networks in slightly over 5% of the time.

Q&A with Stephane Proust of Orange

As we are fast approaching the Voice and Advanced Communications Summit 2018 we got in touch with some of our speakers – Stéphane Proust, a Senior Member of the Orange Group Expert Community. He’s heading the project for Orange Corporate in charge of the evolution of communication and real time services towards 5G (voice/video & messaging) his main objectives are to support Orange European Business Units for their trials & first 5G deployments and anticipate network evolutions for communication and real time services.

How is the demand for Telco communications services changing and what is the place of the traditional Voice Telco offering in this ecosystem?

The demand from our customers is evolving towards more rich and diverse services, with connected objects and new services such as banking services. But there are also fundamentals that do not change: our customers expect from us that we provide connectivity, speed, and high-quality voice. This is confirmed in all customer surveys that we conduct. So even if voice usage is not growing anymore, our voice service remains the fundamental basis of our service portfolio and a key indicator of the best carrier-grade quality of our networks – directly experienced by our customers or evaluated in benchmarks.

Could you tell us a bit more about your work at Orange Labs making for Voice offering available over 5G?

At Orange, we have always been active in research, standardisation and development to improve voice-based services. For example, we were early adopters of VoIP, for our residential customers. We were also early promoters of HD voice and the first operator to demonstrate international HD voice in 3G and we are now heading towards super HD voice…

More recently we deployed VoLTE in all our European operations. Today, my role is firstly to make sure that the standards are ready for voice and messaging support in future 5G environments and achieve end to end interoperability with devices. It is also to ensure that the path from circuit voice and VoLTE towards 5G is smooth, easy and cost-efficient for Orange’s network. Finally, it is particularly important to help Orange’s Business Units in France and Europe prepare for future 5G deployments and choose the best strategy for voice.

How far has your research progressed and how much further do you need to go before we start thinking about the reality to 5G for Voice?

There are several standardised options for 5G deployment with different levels of maturity in devices and network equipment roadmaps. The first deployments of 5G radio access still connected to 4G networks will not impact voice and messaging: voice will remain on 4G or 2G/3G. The full 5G promise with slicing capabilities will require a new 5G core network:  in such a full 5G environment the question in this case is not whether 5G will concern voice or not (voice service in itself does not need 5G) but how 5G users will simply be able to continue to make or receive voice/video calls or messages when connected to 5G. So we now need to prepare the solutions for voice on 5G for all future 5G services and devices and not restrict 5G to data-only applications.

You will be delivering a speech on ‘The roadmap of voice from LTE to 5G’ at the Voice and Advanced Communications Summit on 9 -10 October 2018, Amsterdam. Can you give us a sneak peek of what the attendees can expect to hear at the Summit this year?

My goal is to share the analysis conducted at Orange on how to support voice in future 5G environments and how to minimise the risks of the LTE to 5G evolution, taking into account the various options for 5G deployments and the different possible options for voice. It is also my goal to share views and get feedback from the industry on this. I hope this will be a real topic of interest for attendees since 5G will become a commercial reality very soon, at least in dedicated areas. So the question whether we could simply keep voice on 4G and exclude it from the 5G scope is not straightforward to answer…

There isn’t long to go until Summit. What are you most looking forward to this year?

There are lots of topics that have been developing for years and are reaching maturity now: 5G, but also RCS, multi-devices/multi numbers and more generally “multi-identities” which decouples voice service from single telephone numbers and SIM cards. At the same time, “telco” conversational services are more and more challenged by OTT services and the experience impacting revenue and usage. I really expect from this summit to get a good understanding of what the future holds in store for conversational services, what   the priorities and roadmaps of the ecosystem will be and how we can still capitalise on these assets and still enforce them.

 

Photo Stephane Proust (002)Stéphane Proust – Senior Member of the Orange Group Expert Community will be speaking at the Voice and Advanced Communications Summit 2018 on the 9-10th of October 2018 at Novotel Amsterdam City. It’s not too late to join us – grab your free operator pass here: http://bit.ly/2OAqC8S

Aussie watchdog reviews termination regulations

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has kicked off a public inquiry to decide whether to extend, vary or revoke the domestic mobile terminating access service (MTAS) declaration.

MTAS is the wholesale service offered between the mobile operators to allow customers to call and send texts to those who might use a different providers. The terminating network (the one receiving the call or text) charges the originating one, which in turn recovers the cost from the consumer through monthly tariffs. The issue which the ACCC wants to address is the way in which consumers are communicating with each other.

“Increasingly, consumers are choosing over-the-top services to make calls and send messages,” said ACCC Commissioner Cristina Cifuentes. “These fall outside the MTAS service description and we are interested in knowing whether the ability of consumers to choose these ways of communicating means that declaration of the MTAS is no longer necessary.

“Regulation of wholesale mobile termination has, in the past, helped to lower retail prices for mobile services for the benefit of consumers. This inquiry will consider whether continued regulation is needed to deliver this result. Given the pace of technological change in mobile networks, the ACCC will seek to determine whether the service description remains fit-for-purpose and accurate. We also intend to test what effect the declaration of SMS services in 2014 has had on relevant markets, in particular its impact on consumers.”

The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 requires the ACCC to review the current MTAS declaration during the 18 month period before it expires, which will be on June 30 2019. Such is the size of the Australian landscape, the ACCC believes operators effectively have a monopoly when it comes to accessing its customers, therefore regulation is required. Back in 2014, the introduction of the original declaration was justified to ensure operators did not deny or set unreasonable terms of access to these termination services.

The review will decide whether MTAS should remain a ‘declared’ or regulated service in light of changes in the way consumers use devices. As it stands, there is a difference of opinion in the industry. During the commissions Sector Market Study, Telstra and TPG said they were in favour of a less regulated service, while Macquarie Telecom, Vodafone and MessageMedia were all in support of ongoing regulation.