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EDITORIAL 5G interactive calling is the MNOs’ secret weapon – so why aren’t they using it?

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While voice revenues are still in decline, 5G is offering MNOs a way to at least slow that decline and give them a fighting chance against the unstoppable rise of OTT messaging and voice services.

A study out this week from Juniper Research points to the fact that the telecoms industry is on the brink of a voice-over-5G explosion, predicting that the somewhat paltry 290 million users it has today will rocket to more than 2.5 billion by 2026.

This, says the study, is a golden opportunity for operators to claw back the lead in the interactivity race that they find themselves (losing?) in with OTT providers.

Juniper believes that the power of 5G offers the ability to create a whole new tranche of business telecoms services based around voice, but which are much more interactive and engaging – and the kind of thing that consumers and business users want to use to interact with each other and with companies and brands.

Chief among these is interactive calling. Interactive calling leverages 5G networks to offer advanced voice calling functionality, including interactive content and screensharing, directly in the native calling app on smartphones, thus negating the need for third‑party applications.

Already trialled by Ericsson, Samsung and Telefonica in February, interactive calling enables the addition of real-time, remote interaction between people and things, through a regular mobile phone call. With this new 3GPP-based technology, we believe that the communication service provider (CSP) telephony service could be used for more than just basic voice.

This ground-breaking technology offers consumers access to screen sharing, gaming and social collaboration within a regular phone call, while consumer-to-business and business-to-business calls will be able to provide better digital experiences through increased efficiency. For example, with remote expert support in business contact centres, the callers could start by interacting with the businesses’ call screen menu content while waiting in the phone queue.

During the phone conversation the customer support agent could provide better product and service advice using screen-sharing and content collaboration directly within the call screen. In the future augmented reality (AR) could also be added to further enhance the customer support experience.

CSPs can continue using and improving the voice networks they have already deployed for billions of users across the globe, by leveraging the inherent telephony network values with easy find-and-connect with anyone that has a phone number, quality-of-service, reliability, seamless mobility and security. The successful PoC is bringing the technology closer to a commercial service, by demonstrating how this service could be introduced on future 5G smartphones.

And this isn’t fantasy, this could all soon be reality. According to the State of 5G report from Viavi Solutions out this week, the number of cities with 5G networks now stands at 1,947 globally. Despite the pandemic, 5G cities came online at a rate of nearly two per day, with the addition of 635 new 5G cities in 2021. With as many as 72 countries now embracing 5G, it is time for MNOs to act and start to leverage these networks to offer more than just slightly faster versions of what have already been doing. I have a 5G phone and, so far, have been underwhelmed by the difference it has made – since it appears to have made no difference at all. A raft of new services would really shake that up.

The stakes are high. The latest Digital 2022 April Global Statshot Report from Hootsuite and We Are Social suggests that 63% of the world’s population is now online – that’s 5 billion people – and they are all avid communicators. Most – 4.95 billion – are using social media. If MNOs aren’t clever in how they offer comms services that compete with these platforms, then they will lose out and, once again, face a future as dumb pipes carrying Meta’s calls, messaging, images and more. For MNOs the time to act is now and in 5G they have the ideal tool, user base and reach. So what’s the hold up?

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