Making 5G voice pay

A woman using a smartphone

Hello? Is it 5G you’re looking for?

With all the excitement about how 5G will enable us to download movies in seconds, or drive innovation in IoT, or take autonomous vehicles into the mainstream, it’s easy to forget that sometimes—just sometimes—people might actually want to make calls on 5G as well. 

In fact, 5G voice and video represents a huge opportunity for Communications Service Providers (CSPs). Voice and video revenues are an important part of their finances, yet have become commoditized through competition, stagnating traditional mobile voice revenue streams. By opening up the network, 5G can usher in a host of innovative, differentiating, and value-added voice- and video-based features that can be integrated into other services or sold standalone, creating new revenue opportunities in the process. 

The good news is that CSPs who built their 4G & fixed networks with open principles can start right away with 3GPP Option 3x; however, full benefits come only with full 5G adoption. Once we see 3GPP Option 2 deployments become widespread, where the network has a cloud native converged core with network exposure that comes standard in 5G, then voice and video communications are provided end-to-end over an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) core providing voice and video as a 5G application service. IMS opens up voice and video services via standard APIs in multi-access networks through the support of multiple types of Application Server (AS), the key one being Telephony Application Server (TAS). The opportunities then derive from open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that can be used to customize call logic, extend functionality and to create new services in areas such as call direction, call control, call notification, user interaction, call history, terminal status, and self-care. The business value becomes limitless once you combine all of these capabilities, and multiply this twice by basic voice and video calling scenarios across various consumer and enterprise applications.

Talking business

OK, enough chit chat. Let’s talk business and look at some of the revenue-generating voice services we can expect to see in a brave new 5G world. 

TAS business-centric services for enterprise

Business-centric services are like ultra-powerful PBXs, providing much greater flexibility and programmability thanks to a cloud-native architecture. A key advantage of the 5G core over previous generations is that it is access agnostic, meaning a wide range of services can be provided regardless of access technology—LTE, Wi-Fi, 5G fixed wireless access (FWA), or even fixed access technologies like Passive Optical Networks (PON). If you think of an enterprise environment with multiple types of end-point technology, the 5G core enables applications to seamlessly traverse VoLTE, VoWiFi, video communications, IP-PBXs, chatbots, contact centers, you name it: truly Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C). CSP-hosted enterprise solutions can be tailored to different enterprise segments, using one network for handling fixed and mobile, including Voice over 5G (Vo5G). 

Mission-critical voice communication

Emergency services and public safety agencies depend on voice communication, where it is literally a mission-critical application. CSPs currently offer mission-critical LTE for push-to-talk and full-duplex voice services alongside video and data services. 5G will offer advanced features based on its ability to support end-to-end network slicing across the distributed cloud, dramatically improving service reliability, availability, and performance, and allowing emergency services, business, and residential services, to coexist on the same network infrastructure without compromising each other’s performance. 

5G voice and video bundled with 5G Fixed Wireless Access

The concept of FWA has been around for a long while but has only really become a viable commercial opportunity with the arrival of 5G, as it can now truly rival fiber and HFC broadband services. 5G broadband connections offer clear, reliable voice services that can be bundled into a wider FWA package that enables homes and small businesses to benefit from multimedia applications requiring low latency and gigabit bandwidth. Multi-access gateways can support different radio access technologies including 5G, 4G, and Wi-fi. CSPs can cost-effectively provide 5G voice services, or even mission-critical voice services because no site visits are needed. 5G core programmability enables tailored enterprise voice and video services to be created, for example for small enterprises whose 5G broadband and voice and video connection is provided by FWA. 

Speech recognition and keyword detection-based services

A young girl using a smartphone voice recognition feature

We all now take for granted “Hey Siri” and “Alexa” voice-activated commands. These are made possible by Keyword Detection Systems (KWDs), automatic speech recognition, and natural language generation and processing. It’s again 5G’s end-to-end open programmability that can take these types of functions to a new level. Media Resource Function (MRF) capabilities in the IMS architecture enable media manipulation such as voice mixing in ongoing IMS voice calls. Third-party MRF and KWD resources can be integrated in an IMS voice call to trigger third-party application events such as online translation services or conference calls using the subscriber’s contact list. The service possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the app developers. Similarly, voice activation can be used in homes and workplaces to control devices. This just calls for developers to design the service logic to initiate the required smart home or smart enterprise functions. 

Intelligent voice and video services – managing multiple personas with fixed mobile convergence

Multiple numbers and customized calling line identities are already commercially available in 4G VoLTE networks. A subscriber can select additional numbers for a subscription and assign them to different profiles like home, work and hobby, to make voice calls according to the actual profile. The access-agnostic 5G core augments these services as they can be extended over any available access type, like 4G and 5G, unlicensed Wi-Fi, or fixed access. 

Multiple devices can be added to the service; not just the user’s smartphone, but fixed lines, tablets and wearables. Incoming calls to multiple numbers are directed to a device by the intelligence of the service, while outgoing calls are customized with a different number selected from the profile with personalized caller identity. Mobile functionality can be handled in the mobile app to run in different smart devices. These popular services allow a subscriber to conveniently manage communication services according to their work and personal time preferences or to their calendar. All these services can be realized with the programmable TAS through the IMS core network.

Business model behavior

Like all app development opportunities these days, success will depend on creating a burgeoning ecosystem of partners all able to monetize the voice and video opportunity over 5G.  CSPs ready to unleash business value can tap into the power of 5G network exposure which opens up the complete network (including key aspects such as policy and mobility), and the addition of open communications APIs. For CSPs, the API ecosystem—comprising CSPs, the API vendors, and the application developers—have two business models available to them. 

  • The first is a CSP wholesale model: CSPs buy API capability from API vendors, and then sell API capacity to app developers. 
  • The second and most feasible model is a direct API retail business model: CSPs buy API capability from API vendors and buy apps developed by 3rd parties, which they then sell directly to their subscribers. 
an infographic showing the business model options for monetizing Vo5G

CSPs, as owners of the programmable asset (a.k.a. the 5G network) and the relationship with the end users, are firmly in the driving seat and able to dictate an API strategy to exploit the maximum potential of the 5G voice ecosystem. App developers and API vendors can also embrace the new possibilities by working openly together and making use of open APIs to support their innovation. 

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