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Can we talk? (about Japan)

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

Joan RiversJapan, land of the rising sun, and long a country which has served as a bellwether for new trends in technology. It’s definitely a place to keep your eye on. For more than 8 years, Japanese mobile operators have seen a continual decline in voice minute usage. Today, in Japan, the average mobile is using a mere 96.3 minutes of voice per month (the current US average is 460 minutes).

At first glance, you’d quickly conclude that voice is a melting iceberg. With all the other forms communication at our disposal, a simple voice call looks like AM radio (and sounds about like that as well). Even if you’ve not visited Japan, you could reason that Japan is a crowded place, a country where privacy is appreciated and people simply shifted to other modes of communications adding to this decline.

But then again, you invested in the stock market in 2009. You’d of been wrong two times now.

Arbitron posted a report earlier this year with the following table:


What it clearly shows is the Japanese are yaking it up. They’re just not yaking using the traditional PSTN but instead have switched to mobile VoIP applications. Voice may not be so dead after all. It simply moved to FM radio.

While Japan has clearly moved 68% of their minutes to mobile VoIP, the rest of the world hasn’t. My bet is they will. History is on my side

The introduction of VoLTE by Verizon and soon AT&T signals that VoIP is indeed real for mobile (though it would seem the Japanese figured this out years ago). The problem is VoLTE is offering nothing more than the ability to “make a phone call”. The big whoop is “perhaps” the introduction of maybe HD quality. I’m guessing great innovations like “caller name display” won’t make it to VoLTE. Unfortunately, VoLTE, now over standardized as GSMA has made it, is the equal to digital AM radio. The technology works, but so what.

In the midst of all this comes lumbering along WebRTC already disruptive to our fixed communications but as it ambles along into the mobile world via Android it introduces a new disruptive and perhaps overlooked element. Namely, the relative ease of development and leveraging existing “web” tools, presents an opportunity for minions of developers to quickly try, experiment, fail (perhaps) but in this army of ants, some winners are bound to emerge.