Blog Post

Content Via Voice Calls

UpSnap LogoUpSnap provides mobile content via a voice channel (to confirm an answer to a question I asked in a post last week), the interested customer sends a shortcode to a a number and receive a call in return. I spoke to UpSnap CEO Tony Philipp about the concept.
The main idea behind offering audio content via voice calls is that the service is available on all handsets and on all carriers, according to Tony. In that way it achieves the same kind of ubiquitousness as UpSnap’s SMS products.
I was skeptical about the idea because of the US carrier’s habit of charging customers for receiving calls. “Most people have a cellphone plan where they pay a fixed amount per month, on the evening and weekend you get free minutes for both inbound and outbound calls,” Tony told me. “We see most of our usage is subsequently in the evenings and on the weekends.”
Charging for content is done via premium SMS with the initial message sent by the customer, and UpSnap offers some free podcast content.
Technologically, sending audio content via voice calls is both harder and easier than sending content over the data channel. The voice channel requires specific effort on the part of the company providing the content — UpSnap had to build infrastructure to be able to stream the content over the voice channel. However, once that infrastructure is set up it works on any carrier and on any handset, which eliminates the porting issues which plague the mobile content industry as it tries to get its content to work on as many handsets as possible. It also takes out the whole upgrade issue, where content providers have to update their porting infrastructure whenever a new handset hits the market…ie, all the time.
Of course, the big downside with sending mobile content over voice channels is that it only works with audio content (well, there’s also the issue of people not being able to call you). That’s a big opportunity — aside from music and homeland security alerts it also allows reporting on live sporting events and things like that. Nevertheless, there is also a lot of content that isn’t pure audio. There are video calls, of course, and the adult industry is already working to harness that particular technology…