Global slump in voice traffic ‘turns into a rout’, says TeleGeography

TeleGeography voice traffic Jan 2022.jpg

The market for international voice traffic is falling drastically, with carriers’ traffic down by 7% in 2020 after three equally bad years.

Market research company TeleGeography says in a survey out today that the Covid-19 pandemic “spurred a short-term rally in international call volumes in early 2020, but things pretty much returned to the new normal”.

Traffic fell 9% in 2017, 4% in 2018 and 6% in 2019, and then a further 7% in 2020. Senior analyst Anahí Rebatta said: “When the final numbers came in, only one carrier out of 24 reported that traffic levels were higher by the end of the year and global traffic had continued to drop at an even faster rate than in 2019.”

The turning point came in 2015, says the company, “the first time since the Great Depression that international call traffic declined”, and added: “It’s been a race downhill ever since, as the slump in voice traffic has turned into a rout.”

TeleGeography’s report provides data and analysis for 61 countries and over 1,000 routes, with analysis on the impact of consumer voice-over-IP (VoIP) services delivered by over-the-top (OTT) companies.

The report says: “While Skype was the dominant communications application for computers, a veritable menagerie of smartphone-based communications applications, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat (Weixin), Viber, Line, KakaoTalk, and Apple’s FaceTime, now pose a greater threat.”

It notes that WhatsApp had about 2 billion monthly active users in 2021, with Facebook Messenger topping 1.3 billion. WeChat, based in China, reported about 1.2 billion active users at the same time.

TeleGeography, now owned by a private equity company, says it estimates that seven OTT communications applications – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, QQ, Viber, Line, and KakaoTalk –combined had nearly 6 billion monthly users in September 2021.

It notes: “These estimates exclude apps for which directly comparable data is unavailable, including Apple’s FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Skype.” It reports that Google Hangouts and Skype have over 1 billion downloads from Google’s App Store.

One area the pandemic may have impacted, says TeleGeography, is the mobile-originated share of international traffic, which dropped for the first time ever from 62.4% in 2019 to 62.0% in 2020.

Patrick Christian, principal analyst at the company, said: “This new research shows that the pandemic has not had a huge impact on overall call traffic, despite a brief increase in international call volumes in early 2020. In fact, over half of the operators saw a jump in call volumes in March, but nearly a third still saw a drop in traffic compared to the year before.”

Rebatta said: “It’s possible we could have seen an even bigger drop without the early Covid-effect surge.”