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Point Topic Releases Growth Of VoIP Report

Vonage In Print News

The Growth of Voice-over Internet Protocol

July 7, 2005

By Staff

Point Topic estimates that over 11 million people were using a retail voice over IP (VoIP) service for at least some of their telephone calls at the end of March 2005. That’s an increase from just over 5 million at mid-2004 according to Point Topic research published in December 2004 and the Point Topic Voip Application Source profiles in Broadband Money Makers.

This number is based on a total of publicly available figures for Voip subscribers, combined with estimates where subscriber numbers were not available. Many of these estimates are based on a conservative 10% growth from Q4 2004 to Q1 2005. The total does not include PC-based ‘soft-client’ services like Skype and VoiceGlo.

Japan the largest market

Of these 11 million, well over half, 7.2 million, are in Japan. Yahoo Softbank provides the majority of these services, and they come bundled with the broadband subscription. Users need to retain their standard line and pay line rental. This is a common feature with Voip services, often driven by regulation surrounding emergency calls. So for many of the bundled Voip subscribers (in numerical terms primarily in France and Japan), the Voip service is essentially a second line that enables cheap or no-cost out-bound calls.

Cable Voip key in the USA

After Japan, the American cable sector is numerically the most important Voip sector, with around 2.1 million subscribers. However, not all cable telephony subscribers are served by VoIP. We have included an adjusted number for Cox, which reports 1.4 million telephony subscribers, as they are migrating to Voip and have Voip in 5 of their 17 telephony markets. We have not included Comcast, which had 1.2 million subscribers at the end of 2004 on its circuit-switched network. Time Warner posted remarkable 69% growth for the first quarter of 2005, showing the potential for cable to take telephony subscribers away from incumbent telcos.

The major Canadian cable companies all have Voip plans. Shaw launched in February 2005, with Rogers and Cogeco planning for the middle and end of the year respectively.

US telcos are beginning to enter the Voip market, with Verizon’s VoiceWing service up and running, SBC rolling out services, and Qwest planning a launch soon. These developments are partly driven by new network build, such as SBC’s investment in fibre. But they are also a response to Vonage poaching voice customers from DSL customers. Vonage grew its subscriber base by almost 38% in the first 3 months of 2005.

Europe becoming increasingly competitive

France is the largest market for Voip in Europe, with 1.2million subscribers by the end of the first quarter. Most of these lines are provisioned by Free and Neuf, using a plug and play set top box. In the majority of cases, these are second-line services. Incumbent France Telecom has responded with its own service, and reported 144,000 subscribers at the end of 2004. Norway also has a dynamic Voip market, spearheaded by Telio. Here the business model is slightly different. Telio targets the first line market, and had 50,000 subscribers by Q1 2005 (a penetration of around 7% of all broadband lines in Norway).

Soft client Voip services

How many people are using Skype? This is a difficult question to answer with any degree of accuracy. Skype had 100 million downloads by mid-April 2005. Of these, 35 million users had registered, and there were 1.2 million SkypeOut accounts. Skype does not publish subscriber numbers, but does provide a rolling ticker showing how many minutes it has served. One method of estimating Skype usage is to monitor these numbers to get a weekly and daily average of minutes served. Dividing by a ‘rule of thumb’ number of say 7 minutes per day then gives a feel for Skype usage. Doing this for 2 weeks in June 2005 yields an average of 5.6 or 5.3 million ‘user-equivalents’ for the 2 weeks.

What does this mean? It suggests that many people download the client and do not register, and many people who register never or rarely use Skype (a Voip soft-client version of the 80:20 rule, perhaps). In the table, we have used a figure of 5.3 million, based on this analysis of minutes served. But we stress that this is really only an ‘equivalent’ number to enable comparison with other Voip services. We also use a number for VoiceGlo based on their 2,749,527 users reported for December 2 2004, multiplied by 0.2 to account for downloads and accounts that were never activated or that have fallen inactive. VoiceGlo appears to be in trouble in Q1 and Q2 2005. It never made money, and is looking to move into a Voip over mobile service.

Taking these numbers, we estimate that soft client services added another 5.9 million Voip users in Q1 2005. These users are contributing either zero or relatively little revenue to network providers, although interconnect payments are made when a call from a PC is terminated on the PSTN. In the case of VoiceGlo, any users remaining have effectively cost the provider a significant amount of money, spent on service development and marketing, but not recouped from revenues.

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