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Is Apple planning its own mobile voice service?

Light Reading has dug up some very interesting job postings on Apple’s website. Apple(s aapl) is looking for telephony software engineers to work on iOS. Judging by the list of experience requirements in the postings, Apple is looking to add voice-over-IP (VoIP) capabilities to the iPhone and iPad operating system’s ever-growing feature set.


I know what you’re thinking. Apple is finally going to shed the carrier albatross completely and launch its own voice service. But there are plenty of good reasons Apple is hiring VoIP developers that don’t spell the end of the mobile operator’s core business.

In fact, Apple is probably making these hires precisely because it plans to work closely with its carrier partners. The skill set Apple is looking for fits well with the VoIP schemes operators plan to utilize for their next-generation voice services. It’s looking for experience with a set of protocols that may seem like gobbledygook to most people but are well-known to telecom engineers: IP multimedia subsystem (IMS), session initiation protocol (SIP), and real-time transport protocol (RTP), as well as the more familiar wireless network standards GSM/UMTS and CDMA.

The one acronym to focus on is IMS, which is a key component of the One Voice initiative that many of the world’s largest operators have adopted to migrate voice from circuit-switched systems to all-IP voice networks. The U.S. in particular is gung ho about IMS. Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) and MetroPCS(s pcs) already use the architecture in their LTE networks, and AT&T(s t) and Sprint(s s) are implementing IMS to power their future voice and SMS services.

Future iPhones will need SIP-based clients to communicate with those carriers’ IMS cores, so it’s only natural that Apple is hiring experts to build them. I’m sure every other handset vendor is doing the same thing.

But what if . . .

Now I will entertain some of the Apple diehards’ bigger fantasies. There’s nothing preventing Apple from building a VoIP service of its own. Given the big dent Apple had already made in SMS with iMessage and how it yanked video chat right from under the operators’ noses with FaceTime, I wouldn’t be surprised if launching a competing voice service is in Apple’s road map.

The extreme scenarios are: 1) Apple becomes a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), buying wholesale 4G capacity from carriers, whom it would then relegate to  dumb pipes, or 2) Apple buys its own spectrum and builds its own 4G networks. I  find the first possibility only slightly less ridiculous than the second. Apple doesn’t want to become an operator for the same reasons Google doesn’t want to be one.

FaceTimeThe more likely scenario is Apple launches a cross-device VoIP platform that allows customers to trade phone calls among iPhones, iPads and Macs. The beauty of VoIP is that it’s not just voice; it supports all kinds of features, from multimedia and video conferencing to instant messaging and presence that you simply can’t shove into legacy circuit networks. Apple could create an SIP-based communications platform that integrates FaceTime, iMessage and voice into a single multifaceted service, available exclusively to any member of the Apple club.

Whatever approach Apple takes, it’s probably not going to use IMS. It’s such a carrier architecture, coming with all sorts of telecom baggage. Also, Apple has no qualms with walling off its technology and it has a huge customer base to play with: It probably has no use for some stodgy telco standard. It was the IMS core responsible for all of Verizon’s recent network outages, which doesn’t recommend the standard to a company like Apple.

Apple is almost certainly looking for people with an IMS skill set so it can design future iPhones (and possibly iPads and Macs) that work with carriers’ new networks. But that doesn’t preclude it from dabbling in a little VoIP on the side.

18 Responses to “Is Apple planning its own mobile voice service?”

  1. Trent Johnsen

    Apple would require something newer and more efficient than SIP and hookflash has built it. “Open Peer” that powers the hookflash voice, video and text engine will be available very soon in the 1st client – hookflash for iPad. Stay tuned.

  2. Steve Ardire

    >The one acronym to focus on is IMS, which is a key component of the One Voice initiative that many of the world’s largest operators have adopted to migrate voice from circuit-switched systems to all-IP voice networks. The U.S. in particular is gung ho about IMS.

    IP Multimedia Subsystem – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  3. Lynne Gregg

    I believe that Apple has to extend the functionality of Facetime in order to compete with other VOIP apps like Skype, Webex, etc. There’s revenue there and AAPL wants it.

    • Jonathan

      There is money is selling iPhones, but Apple doesn’t typically monetize the services. For example, their version of text messages helps consumer reduce costs.

  4. Andrew Gormley

    This seems like the next logical step for Apple. The Next Web touched on this exact idea a few months back ( and dubbed the feature “VoiceTime” for the sake of example.

    It would likely be tied to your Apple ID much like iMessages and FaceTime are to keep things simple, then Apple could automatically detect if the person you’re calling has a capable device and switch over to their network. This would make international calling free between iPhone users and no doubt provide a huge boost to call quality with the use of a more advanced codec. Of course this would probably piss off the carriers, but I don’t think Apple really ever had their best interests in mind anyway.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      You don’t think? :)

      I think you’re right Andrew. I don’t think Apple wants to cut ties to their voice services completely, but you do get the impression that it views them as a necessary inconvenience.

  5. Apple needs to do something those costs continue to spiral for the consumer, cost for data especially. How long will the consumer continue to support Apple with these continued increases costs?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      I bet you’re right Tal. If they go the Apple device-to-Apple device route, it will likely cross international borders (just not platform borders).

  6. @Kevin,

    These job postings are timely given wireless carrier statements that next generation voice services were coming in late 2012 or early 2013. That said, I think that you are referring to VoLTE, which is the result of the One Voice Initiative. While correct generally speaking, I don’t think VoIP is correct when referring to the One Voice Initiative.

    My $.02.


    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Curtis,

      Not sure I understand. One Voice is supposed to migrate operators to a VoLTE, which is VoIP using the LTE access network and the LTE core.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Sorry, I meant “IMS core.” In any case, are you referring to the circuit-switch fallback stuff and single radio voice call continuity stuff? There definitely is a circuit switch aspect to it, but over LTE it’s VoIP all of the way.