Voice isn’t dead. It’s just been reincarnated

By Itamar Kandel , written on September 4, 2013

From The News Desk

People are texting. A lot. Analysts at Informa estimate that in 2014 Americans will send a jaw-dropping 71 billion text messages while teenagers in the U.S. send a staggering 2,022 texts per month -- that’s 67 per day.

What does this mean for voice? Does it even matter anymore whether “I can hear you now”?

As usual, creative disruption is at the heart of it. In just a decade, we’ve moved away from landlines with arcane and expensive features like long distance, call waiting, caller ID, and call blocking. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control found that over half of Americans no longer have or use a landline. When the mobile revolution took off, money moved from wired to wireless minutes. Wireless networks gave the big guys a run for their money with innovative payment options like free long distance, prepaid phones and rollover minutes. The next wave was smartphones. More than one of every three households in the first six months of 2012 (35.8 percent) did not have a landline telephone but did have at least one wireless telephone, and even telecom networks are lobbying customers to switch to wireless services. The supercomputers in our pockets are all we need.

As these smart devices evolved, so did our lives. We are always connected, always running, always triple-booked, and don’t have time to stop for an old-school phone conversation. So we text because it’s less interruptive. It’s short and sweet, and allows us to get on with our busy lives.

This new customer behavior has given birth to a fresh genre of free apps that let you text all you want over your unlimited data plan. These new “over the top” apps have carriers in a frenzy. By gaining traction, OTT apps are siphoning revenue from carriers – to the tune of $25B last year. Of the 71 billion text messages we’ll send in 2014, 50 billion will be app-based.

Sayonara, voice, it’s been fun while it lasted, now make way for text. Right? Wrong.

Despite what the carriers and analysts think, voice is alive and kicking. How can something that is the cornerstone of human interaction be dead? The richness that voice provides simply cannot be replicated by text-based communication: you can’t convey tone, emotion, sarcasm, or emphasis in a text (and when you try you’re stuck with inane emoticons). People love hearing a familiar voice. But phone calls have limited utility, and can be inconvenient and interruptive.

Why can’t you have the proverbial cake and eat it too? Why can’t you have live, voice-based communications that don’t force you to stop what you’re doing, usually at the worst possible moment?

You can. That is voice reincarnated.

In the business world, particularly in the blue-collar sector, the need and demand for push-to-talk never died. Employers simply traded dedicated devices with instantaneous voice, such as radios and dedicated push-to-talk phones, for smart devices, although many still preferred push-to-talk communication. The combination of an ongoing demand for voice and the desire to have smartphones is why carriers are now re-entering  the push-to-talk space.

In New York, taxi companies are scheduling pickups, coordinating driver operations and sharing driver locations, all with their voices. Some drivers even use the app to coordinate with drivers in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, to ensure a car will be waiting for an airport-bound passenger when he or she lands. Hands-free voice communication with a Bluetooth headset allows drivers to talk without the static of traditional dispatcher radios or walkie-talkies – and, more importantly, without having to stop the car.

Voice is similarly crucial across a wide spectrum of hands-on jobs, including construction, transportation, and infrastructure. Anybody who works with their hands needs a hands-free way to communicate – and there are plenty of other fast-paced jobs, such as hospitality, event management, security and more, where stopping to compose a text is impractical. Today, 53 percent of organizations use mobile applications for field service, and 55 percent of organizations are considering new mobile investments or upgrades in the next 12 months. With entire industries still relying primarily on the immediacy of voice communication, the demand for solutions that work with today’s technology (and the market for those solutions) is tremendous.

While technology’s evolution is inevitable, business and consumer customers still want voice communication that’s live and non-interruptive. Texting may be convenient in a pinch, but it’s no substitute for the ability to have a real-time conversation -- even if there’s no landline or cell service. Reincarnated voice technology will continue to advance, enabling Steelers fans to make fun of their Ravens friends across the country and allowing a father stationed in Afghanistan to be part of his daughter’s birthday party in Cincinnati. Voice communication will never disappear. Instead, it will only continue to evolve.

We will help carriers get back to their voice roots. Your loved ones can, and want to, hear you now.

[Image courtesy Per Olof Forsberg]