Reliance Jio s arrival in the telecom space has impacted the industry and users in various ways. Jio s meteoric rise has led to an intense competition, which is always good for users. The battle so far has been around the data tariffs, from Airtel to Vodafone, most of the incumbent players are offering 4G data at a price, that has never been so low. Jio though has continued to have an upper hand for sheer its ultra low-cost data pricing with higher amount of data availability. The war, however, is far from over. After squaring off in the data space, the next battle is set to take place in the voice segment, where Jio may not have the upper hand it has enjoyed so far. Also Read - Jio maintains lead in 4G download speed, Vi in upload in May: TRAIAlso Read - Airtel launches new Rs 456 prepaid plan: Check data, validity, call and other benefits
Reliance Jio offers voice services on the LTE network, which is generally referred to VoLTE. The technology allows Jio to offer HD quality voice calls to users. Though Jio s credentials of offering seamless voice services are questionable. The prolonged interconnect issue between Jio and incumbent players has adversely impacted users and continues to be a dent in Jio s grandeur image. We ll dive deeper into Jio s interconnect issues some other day. The point is VoLTE as a technology is an upgrade over the existing and bit dated circuit-switched 2G voice network. Also Read - Jio Freedom Plans 2021: Jio launches 5 new prepaid plans with no daily data limit - check details
For Jio, VoLTE is an advantage as well as a hurdle to some extent. As said before, VoLTE is a logical upgrade for voice services and for telecom players as it allows them manage data channel as well as voice channel through a singular platform. But in the case of Jio, VoLTE is the only option for voice at the moment. And considering the massive fragmentation in the smartphone industry with erratic connectivity, having a facility to fall back on 2G or 3G for voice is an advantage.
For an example, you are in a poor coverage area, what happens at the moment, if 4G doesn t work, you switch to 3G or 2G. But what if you only had 4G network, you know there will be a moment where you lose out on connectivity and then have to live with no network at all. Heck, in an urban city like Delhi, call drops and all these connectivity issues are a common phenomenon.
Rival telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, however, have identified this problem. While the two telcos already offer 4G data services, they are now looking to offer VoLTE services as well. According to an ET report, Airtel and Vodafone will start their VoLTE services in India by September this year. Airtel, in the meanwhile, has already begun testing its VoLTE services. But what will work with Airtel and Vodafone going forward is the existing 2G and 3G infrastructure for voice. VoLTE will be a luxury and give these telcos a more fighting chance against Reliance Jio, which has continued to grow at a fast pace in the country. ALSO READ: Reliance Jio effect: Airtel, Idea, Vodafone to reportedly roll out VoLTE by September
VoLTE will be very relevant in key markets/big cities in next 12-18 months and even as sub-GHz band is best in deploying voice, 1,800 Mhz band is also very good. We are future-proofing our network for VoLTE and looking at deploying equipment switch in key markets, Gopal Vittal, chief executive at Airtel, recently told Livemint.
I am not really sure whether Airtel and Vodafone will go ahead with absolutely free voice calls, like Jio does. But what s easy to predict is that voice tariffs are going to be much lower than what they currently are. ALSO READ: Reliance Jio effect: Vodafone offers 4G data, unlimited calls starting at Rs 19
In a situation of free service, we are witnessing reduction in usage of data by customers; though they are retaining our SIM, data is not being used. However, that doesn t mean they will not come back; once free services stop, it is to be seen then. We will continue to curate customers by introducing new plans. Lower pricing should not be a concern since cost of producing a MB is falling as network investment is happening. It s an ARPU game and a function of how demand (of data) shapes up, Vittal had said.
There are a few things we need to understand behind so much of effort going on in the VoLTE nation. The most important thing is that even though data has taken the center stage, voice calls aren t going to become redundant. Notwithstanding the data revolution, there s a vast majority of people still using voice networks as the primary communication medium. Yes, internet-enabled smartphones are selling like hotcakes, but feature phones are still around, have a considerable chunk of the mobile phone market. According to an estimate, about 140 million feature phones will be sold in India.
Of late, there has been a massive focus on the feature phone segment. Shortly after rumors of Reliance Jio launching a 4G VoLTE feature phone, there has been a wide interest in how the segment could see a revival, even though for a short term. It s just Jio, but brands like Lava are also focusing on the segment. The Indian handset maker has already launched a 4G VoTE feature phone. Even Micromax has forayed into space with Bharat-series of phones. The next big push is set to come from Qualcomm, which has introduced a chipset just for this segment.
In feature phones, Qualcomm was almost nonexistent. It had 30 percent market share in the overall smartphone market for CY 2016 but its share for entry-level sub $100 segment smartphones was just 12 percent, which leaves a lot of room for growth for Qualcomm in India especially with VoLTE feature phones just starting selling in India. Being a market leader in LTE technology, Qualcomm understands the space pretty well as compared to rest of the competition. As a result, it can tweak it offering by understanding how the entry level offering can be used especially in emerging markets where local brands are striving for differentiation, Tarun Pathak, an analyst at Counterpoint, had told BGR India. ALSO READ: Qualcomm 205 mobile platform: Partnership with Micromax and Reliance Jio a gamechanger
Besides a spur of feature phones, VoLTE-enabled smartphones are likely to flood the market in the coming months. Already, we have seen Jio s VoLTE-enabled LYF phones doing great in terms of sales. According to reports, most of the smartphones launching in the budget and entry-level segment this year will be VoLTE enabled. Well, the bottom line is there will be demand for voice, no matter it comes from smartphones or feature phones. Yes, voice and SMS are being commoditized, but then you cannot overlook its existence, at least this point.