The Friday Interview: Ross Brennan, Cicero

13 Apr 2007

This week’s interviewee is Ross Brennan (pictured), CEO of Cicero Networks, a Dublin firm labelled a ‘tech pioneer’ by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Your company joins previous pioneers Napster and Google among the hottest technologies recognised by the WEF’s panel of experts. How will wireless voice over internet protocol (VoIP) make a difference?

It’s not going to happen overnight but VoIP is a disruptive technology that will change the mobile world given our reliance on mobile services.

It is not only the fixed-line telecoms world that will feel this change but cellular operators recognise the technology and are trying to decide whether to embrace it, exploit it or minimise the risk.

Most forecasts would suggest that a quarter of mobile users will be using VoIP by 2010.

Why do you believe the underlying business case for mobile VoIP is strong?

To put it simply, look at the cost of a mobile call today.

Originally your business case was to help fixed-line operators muscle in on the mobile world. Is this changing?

Yes, from the point of view that we are now working with a growing number of mobile operators across Europe.

The disruption we are causing is not about having a technology that increases or decreases the price per minute of a mobile call.

It underlines the need for mobile operators to move average revenue per user (ARPU) beyond just voice and messaging.

What in your view are the biggest weaknesses of mobile operators today?

At present operators are too adept at replicating revenues from voice and messaging and they aren’t moving users fast enough in the direction of data.
They themselves realise that they can only milk the cash cow for as long as it is yielding milk.

They recognise the need to get people to move in the direction of data, but while revenues from voice are so strong it’s understandable why they don’t want to lead the charge.

Are mobile operators in danger of pricing themselves out of the market?

Well, prices are still pitched at a level that compares poorly with fixed-line calls.

In certain markets this is changing and cell data costs have come down so much that they are a real alternative to using fixed-line services.

How close are mobile operators to launching wireless VoIP services?

Some are close to a launch date, while others are still testing the technology internally to see if it is a threat.

Fixed-line operators, however, don’t have the cannibalisation fears that the cell operators have because they have evolved to include new revenue streams.

BT in the UK is a great example of this; it relies on voice for only 8pc of its revenues.

By John Kennedy

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