Feature-phones are set for a comeback as new low-cost devices enter the market, optimised for 4G and VoLTE. The market is expected to surge, and this creates an opportunity for service providers to target verticals and segments that can benefit from lower-cost devices as well as advanced communications services.
Smartphones are wonderful things and they have proven to be highly adaptable to a wide range of uses. Let’s face it, most of us have one and we frequently seek to upgrade to the shiniest new model.
That’s great, but it’s not the whole story. For many markets and for many businesses, smartphones are not the solution. They are an overhead. In fact, a recent article notes that smartphone growth is slowing. What’s more, the same article suggests that many operators see a key role for 4G feature-phones to replace the significant numbers of 2G and 3G devices that remain active, as part of their plans to liberate and re-farm spectrum in readiness for 5G. 4G feature-phones give operators a low-cost tool to achieve this goal. But this also creates a very interesting parallel opportunity.
Feature-phones necessarily have less functionality than smartphones, but then this functionality isn’t always needed. Apparently, more than half a billion LTE feature-phone devices are expected to ship in the next five years, across all markets. In some, they will simply offer a lower-cost means of accessing superior quality; in others, they may be a handy way of obtaining a second device.
However, they are perfect for other purposes too. Many companies spend hundreds of Euros providing desk phones to their employees. The same company may also issue smartphones to users: both costs add up and increase the overheads associated with communication.
Typically, mobiles and desk phones are disconnected, or a simple call forwarding solution is in place to a VoIP app on the smartphone. But, many organisations have a large pool of users who move around their premises, taking them away from their desk phones for a significant proportion of their day. Airports, railway stations, hospitals and the like are full of workers who move around and who are not desk-based, but who need to communicate internally and externally.
In such environments, desk phones are redundant at best and a cost-drain at worst. Similarly, while a smartphone may help mobility, they also have a significant cost. So, semi-mobile employees (who move within the premises, but not out of) would benefit from more widespread availability of lower-cost devices. To achieve this, we need not only a surge in such devices (which is expected to happen) but also a communications solution that works as effectively on any device, be it smartphone, desk phone of feature-phone.
That’s a core element of Gintel’s proposition. Since our UC and Mobile PBX services were originally developed to operate on 2G and 3G networks, they are optimised for any carrier and are not tied to a smartphone application, unlike many new entrants to this marketplace. This gives organisations greater flexibility in choosing the right device fleet for their businesses, while enabling service providers to meet a wider range of use cases.
Service providers can tap into the expected demand for feature-phones, but they need to be sure they have solutions in place to really leverage the potential this creates. Focusing on specific sectors (healthcare, logistics, transport) and segments (SMEs unwilling to make significant ongoing investments in costly devices) will allow them to do so. The return of the feature-phone, fully compatible with LTE and VoLTE gives the opportunity.