This local story begins in Australia of all places.
In 2017, a survey by Finder.com.au found that only 55% of Australians still have landlines, whereas 29% rely solely on their mobile phones.
Angus Kidman, tech expert at Finder.com.au, foresees the death of the landline by 2025.
“Smartphones have become cheaper and cheaper to run, with most plans offering unlimited calls and texts, so it’s become a lot harder to justify keeping a landline,” says Mr. Kidman.
Dr. Habib Al Mulla, chairman of law firm Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, echoed the sentiment but went even further, in an interview with Arabian Business (AB).
In his opinion, even standard mobile phone calls will be a thing of the past in coming years.
He gave a cautionary piece of advice to UAE telecom operators: “Data is where Etisalat and du need to make their investment, not on calls. Calls will be obsolete.”
The culprit behind the foreseen death of landlines is mobile phones, but the culprit behind the death of mobile calls will be another beast entirely: Voice over internet protocol VoIP services such as Whatsapp Call and Skype.
You can’t beat the price of free
The rise of wireless mobile Internet services such as 3G and 4G (5G coming soon) have given customers a great range of options for getting in touch with others.
The prevalence of apps such as Whatsapp, Skype, and FaceTime have given customers several ways to communicate, and the uniting factor of all these is that they’re free. Gone were the days when you’d have to pay excessive rates to make a 5-minute phone call to a loved one abroad. With services like Whatsapp Call, you’re only limited by your data threshold. On a Wi-Fi network, there are often no limits.
Telecom providers were blindsided by this sudden surge of free services. In fact, providers such as du and Etisalat have appealed to the government, citing supposed regulatory concerns, to safeguard their business operations from the competition of these free online services. Currently, these providers have blocked the Whatsapp Call service and Skype in the country.
Currently, Etisalat and du offer their own VoIP apps: C’Me and BOTIM, respectively.
Landline usage faces a similar decline
In a 2018 study, Finder discovered the following about the demographics of landline users:
Millennials, or Gen Y’ers, are more inclined towards mobile phones, ‘cutting the cord’ so to speak.
Ernst & Young forecasts that by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be comprised of millennials, meaning that the future of the landline isn’t a bright one.
The future of telecom lies with data
In his interview with Arabian Business, Al Mulla explained: “If continue insisting on making their mainstream revenue from calls, their whole business model will be obsolete. They will soon be like Kodak – out of business.”
Instant messaging services such as Whatsapp and previously Blackberry Messenger (BBM) revolutionized how we send messages to one another. Long gone were the days where you’d be charged per word count thresholds.
The ease and development of VoIP further culled our habits of old, making calls easier and cheaper than ever before.
It is up to telecom companies to find a way to adapt to this rapidly changing environment, to find a way to stay relevant without putting obstructions in front of customers who just want to be on par with their international neighbors.
Who knows; maybe the internet itself could become free one day. In fact, Ben Tarnoff, writing for the Guardian, posits that internet access should become a human right.
“Access to the internet is a necessity,” he states. “It is a basic precondition for full participation in our social, political, and economic life. But so long as the internet’s infrastructure remains private, the corporations that control it will always prioritize piling up profits for investors over serving our needs as users and citizens.”
This eventuality heralds the end of service providers as we know them.