The Bell Tolls for Telcos?

February 13, 2013

New data from telecom market research firm TeleGeography show that international telephone traffic grew 5 percent in 2012, to 490 billion minutes. However, as call volumes continue to grow, so do the challenges facing the international long-distance industry.

International migration, the rapid uptake of mobile phones in developing countries, and steady reductions in international call prices—especially in the form of flat-rate (and even free) calling plans—have contributed to traffic increases. Nevertheless, recent growth rates are well below the 13 percent average that carriers could count on to offset price declines over much of the past 20 years.

While international phone traffic growth is slowing, traffic from voice and messaging applications like Skype continues to increase at a stunning pace. TeleGeography estimates that cross-border Skype-to-Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent in 2012, to 167 billion minutes. This increase of nearly 51 billion minutes is more than twice that achieved by all international carriers in the world, combined.

International Telephone and Skype Traffic, 2005-2012 ILD_vs_Skype.png

Source: TeleGeography

Moreover, if Skype’s traffic were added to the volume of international phone calls, international voice traffic would have grown 13 percent in 2012, in line with historical trends. This suggests that although demand for cross-border communications has not declined, an ever growing number of callers have chosen to take telcos out of the equation.

“The pressure on carriers will continue to mount in the coming years,” said TeleGeography analyst Stephan Beckert. “While Skype is the best-known voice application, it’s far from the only challenger to the PSTN. Google (Talk and Voice), WeChat (Weixin), Viber, Nimbuzz, Line, and KakaoTalk have also become popular. And, perhaps most ominously for telcos, Facebook recently added a free voice calling feature to its Messenger application.”

The TeleGeography Report has been a vital source of statistics and analysis for the international long-distance market for over 20 years. To find out more and to download a copy of the executive summary, please visit www.telegeography.com/research-services/telegeography-report-database.

To speak with an analyst, please call +1-202-741-0042 or email press@telegeography.com.