Over-the-top services (OTTs) are mobile services or applications that are available to the end-user through the use of a data connection, as opposed to the cellular network. These include services such as WhatsApp, Skype and Google Hangouts, and can often directly compete with regular mobile services. Since OTTs are not regulated, they are generally cheaper than the traditional voice calls and messaging, which used to be the domains of mobile network operators.
Mobile Operators Challenge Rival OTTs
OTTs are accessible and affordable to the masses, and mobile operators around the world are disgruntled because this innovation is affecting its revenue. Morocco’s telecoms regulator has already blocked calls via Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and FaceTime for subscribers of mobile network operators Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi. In the South African telecoms market, Vodacom and MTN have voiced concerns over OTTs and called for the regulation thereof.
Cell C is the only operator in SA that has welcomed OTTs, and has even joined forces with Facebook to provide free access to the social media site, as well as certain news, education and health-related websites.
Jose Dos Santos, CEO of Cell C, says it has chosen partnerships over “bullying”, and that it will be to everyone’s advantage if operators and OTTs work together. Moreover, he says that good companies embrace change to create new opportunities for themselves and their customers, whereas bad companies don’t consider the customer and “manipulate the system to get only what they want.”
Potential Legislation for OTTs
At the beginning of this year Parliament’s portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal service scheduled a hearing to determine the effect of OTTs on mobile operators, and if there was a need for legislation, but a decision has not yet been reached.
Telecommunications and broadcast policy experts, mobile network providers, OTT service providers, Internet service providers, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and department officials were present at the hearing.
ICASA also revealed that in the next financial year, it would assess the full impact of OTTs on the data services market and thereafter make an informed decision regarding regulation.