The future of mobile telephony

Recently there have been huge rumblings in the area of digital voice communications with the emergence of voice-over-internet (VoIP) technologies. VoIP uses internet infrastructure to facilitate extremely cheap local and international telephony. Most notable has been the huge success of the freely available European VoIP software, Skype. In addition to tens of millions of users worldwide, this technology is beginning to make its way into wireless internet (WiFi) capable cell phones, and even traditional mobile phones with cheap adapters (see here and here).

These developments raise many questions about the viability of conventional cell phone (and also the newer 3G) infrastructure, which continues to be newly deployed by most of the major telco’s, certainly here in Australia at least. Parallel to deploying cell phone infrastructure, WiFi is also being deployed very rapidly. It seems to me that that the later, within a few years, will have made the former redundant. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that in five years time, every new cell phone will be WiFi equipped, facilitating VoIP and completely bypassing existing cell phone infrastructure. It puzzles me that the major telecommunications corporations haven’t latched on to this trend and realized that the cell phone infrastructure they are presently rolling out is unlikely to be economically viable.

Today’s wireless communications applications – including wireless internet, voice communications, GPRS (which allows data communications through the cell phone network), and 3G (third generation mobile telephony, which facilitates video conferencing and data communications) – are essentially all variations on the same technology. For this reason it is extremely inefficient and uneconomical to continue deploying these technologies in parallel, which is the present approach. Providers should agree on a single, high bandwidth, wireless technology, and share this between the various applications. Such an approach would allow for increased economies of scale, eliminate redundancy and reduce both investment and end-user costs.

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