Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ironically, Low Prices are a Barrier to Mobile VoIP

SK Telecom says it has no plans to allow its smartphone subscribers access to VoIP calling, saying it will deal a blow to its revenue, reports the Korea Herald.  That's true, but also likely unsustainable. All it would take is for Korea Telecom to allow it and SK Telecom would have to relent.

Oddly enough, it appears low prices are a problem. An SK Telecom executive says that AT&T and Verizon can afford to allow VoIP because both those carries make enough money with their broadband and voice tariffs to allow cannibalization of legacy voice revenues by VoIP.

Oddly enough, this is a case where higher prices would lead to more innovation. U.S. carriers are moving about as fast as they can to create broadband-driven revenue streams so voice can be cannibalized.

Mobile VoIP is a sensitive issue for SK Telecom precisely because its tariffs are low. "Mobile VoIP will destroy our profit-making structure," Lee Soon-kun, senior vice president of SK Telecom, says. At the same time, Korean mobile providers face mounting pressure to lower tariffs on legacy calling.

Under the "per-second" scheme, which will take effect on March 1, 2010the carrier will charge for every second, instead of every 10 seconds. Under the current system, consumers have to pay for a full 10-seconds of calls, even if they have not been connected for all of that time.

The revamp is expected to lead to a tariff cut of 700 won and 800 won per subscriber on average, SK Telecom said, adding that all of its 25 million subscribers would be able to save a combined 201 billion won ($1.8 million) a year.

SK's move put its rivals KT and LG Telecom under growing pressure to follow suit.

Broadband prices that are too low--basically unable to support the entire cost of running a mobile network--would seem to be a problem for widespread mobile VoIP in the Korean market.

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