Russian mobile users find OTT messaging apps to be the most important function on their smartphones, and they are increasingly using these apps for voice services, according to a recent nationwide study of around 1,600 users over the age of 16. The most frequently downloaded messaging apps are WhatsApp (83 percent of respondents), Viber (61 percent), Skype (53 percent) and Telegram (40 percent)—the latter despite the fact that it is officially banned in Russia.
Mobile voice traffic in Russia has fallen for the first time since 2011, according to a recent statement from the Ministry of Communications. It was down 2.8 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2019, and the figure declined by 4 percent in the second quarter. Total traffic volume reached 219.1 billion minutes in the first half of this year, down from 228.2 billion minutes in the same period last year.
We have written on many occasions about the phenomenon of OTT players making significant, even game-changing, incursions into mobile operators’ traditional areas of service. At first apps such as WhatsApp were eroding SMS and MMS; then the messaging apps began offering voice, as well, and operators in various markets have seen some impact from that.
In Russia, the situation is particularly glaring, with voice traffic on mobile networks turning downward for the first time in eight years. The movement toward messenger apps was first noted in the Moscow area but is now widespread. There is a documented generational turn against the use of voice telephony, so that could be part of the reason, but the results of the survey do indicate that many users’ decision to use voice but not over cellular is also a major factor. Enthusiasm for these apps could be driven by various factors, but price in general, price plus ease of use with international calls, and social networking aspects are likely to be important considerations.
The trend is driving down voice revenue for operators, of course, although increased revenue from data is a compensating factor. If operators want to resign themselves to losing voice to OTT players, they can emphasize ways to promote more data use across the board, not just on OTT messenger services. On the other hand, they could try to resurrect voice by offering competitive deals and creative value-added features. It should be pointed out, though, that encryption and privacy are part of the motivation for the use of OTT apps, and what operators can offer in that regard are limited by Russian law. The ban on Telegram (which has been in force for over a year but has not had the effect of actually making the service inaccessible) was instituted because of issues relating to security and privacy.