Of all the things to get arrested for, making a phone call probably wouldn’t be high on the list.
But that’s exactly the reason why there was a welcome committee of port authority policemen waiting for Talmon Marco, co-founder of the VoIP and free texting app Viber (which is similar to Skype) at the end of his Delta flight this month.
The reason that he was being detained was that he had (not surprisingly, considering the company he’s CEO of), used VoIP calls during the flight, which according to the Delta flight attendant was “banned by the FAA”.
“At some point a flight attendant shows up and says I cannot make phone calls on the plane. I explained my cell was off and this was Viber. She said VoIP is also not allowed and I can only text. Claiming it’s an FAA rule. I told her there is no such rule so she decided I was getting difficult.” [Talmon Marco, Viber CEO]
Marco was right about the FAA – its website confirms that there is no federal rule against VoIP apps on planes. Marco’s use of VoIP was simply a GoGo “terms of service” violation (GoGo being Delta’s communication carrier partner).
So why would an airline company and its communication carrier partner ban VoIP?
1. People talking over phones on the plane disrupt other passengers – OK, I agree with that, but if that’s the case, why do airlines now provide phones with an over-charged, (expensive) in-flight call service? By the way, GigaOm’s Om Malik has just reported Virgin Atlantic’s intention to offer a WiFi service powered by Aeromobile.
2. The communication carriers don’t want to overload their bandwidth. Actually, Viber apparently consumes much less bandwidth than YouTube videos, navigation maps, and music streaming, all of which you’re allowed to access on your flight. One consumer tested Last FM and found it used an incredible 600 Mb in an hour. Another tested Spotify and he’d used around 200MB during a six hour trip (which is still a huge amount). tested.com’s Ryan Whitwam found that a one-minute YouTube video could consume several megabytes and Google Music used 10-12MB in the first few minutes alone. But if you’re really interested in calculating VoIP consumption, you can always do what I did when I investigated Draw Something’s hidden drain on data consumption, and download the VoIP Calculator.
Anyway, regardless as to whether you view what happened as either protecting or restricting airline inflight communications service, there’s a parallel here with the serious problem that communication service providers are facing from new over-the-top (OTT) players who are cannibalizing their core business. Skype, Viber and WhatsApp are just a few examples of how service providers are losing voice, SMS & MSS revenues to OTT players.
Consumers are also affected because since OTT players generally support only parts of the customer experience, they don’t have access to all the critical customer information they need to accurately personalize the experience:
“We’re losing sight of who the customer is. We’re losing that precious intelligence about customer behaviors that has always been the hallmark of the telecom-to-customer relationship.” [Steve Cotton, Head of Revenue Management, TM Forum industry association]
On the other hand, your service provider has access to your network data, customer data and product data, giving them the full picture of who you are. And if they leverage this information correctly, they can therefore offer you what no OTT player can – a more personalized, optimal experience that, according to Cotton in a recent interview with BillingWorld’s Dan Baker, service providers “can take to the bank”:
“Within the constraints of privacy laws, you can pull together a great deal of knowledge about what over-the-top customers are doing. And what’s unique to telecom service providers is that view is across all the over-the-top providers.” [Steve Cotton]
And if service providers can’t beat their OTT players, they can always join them through cooperation. Service providers can leverage their network policy capabilities for example, to guarantee to deliver enhanced video streaming for partners such as Netflix whose streaming service would be worthless if it couldn’t offer a certain level of quality of service.
Service providers don’t have flight attendants to help fight their battles – but they don’t need to. They have the right weapons/assets at their disposal to do it themselves.
BLOGGER: SHAI SHAMIR