After crying like a baby for several months, other operators are following Jio’s footsteps and are launching VoLTE network in various Indian cities. They are also offering 3G, 4G data packs at affordable rates. However, these are the same operators who at one point had asked the TRAI to consider restricting VoIP calling feature in apps like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Whatsapp to save their revenue generated from voice calls.
What’s VoIP and why did telecom companies oppose it?
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that converts analog audio signals into digital data that can be transmitted using the internet connection and packet switching method. VoIP solutions are widely used in data centers as well as call centers around the world.
You can use VoIP with analog telephone adapter (ATA device), IP Phones, or computer-to-computer software like Skype. In all cases, basic internet connectivity is necessary.
VoIP based programs (OTT apps) like Google Hangouts, Skype, Whatsapp calling, Viber, etc. also offer the same service with the help of their mobile phone applications since around 2014. This is something that made telecom operators fume in anger. Some of the operators blocked voice calling features of these apps without openly declaring the same.
In April 2014-15, telecom players in India started opposing VoIP enabled free calling apps and claimed net neutrality was under threat due to free voice calls offered by these players. Some of them agreed that VoIP would decline their voice revenue and thus the technology needs to be opposed. Airtel was also planning to introduce specific data packs with five times higher data rates for users who wish to make VoIP calls. After facing extreme criticism, the operator rolled back its decision. Back then, analysts had pointed out that operators had already lost SMS (text messaging) revenue due to Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and were upset about the dent in the income generated with voice calls as well. Besides India, the telecom sector in the Middle East also showed some resistance towards VoIP based free voice calling apps.
VoIP apps work with 3G network and smartphone. So, almost all players could have adapted it back in 2014 itself.
It won’t be wrong to assert that mobile networks in India failed to embrace the VoIP technology. They could have had used this opportunity to improve their data networks and launch affordable/super cheap data plans back in 2014 itself to keep themselves ahead of Jio, at least two years before its launch.
What’s VoLTE and how is it better than VoIP?
To put it in simple words, the Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) is an advanced version of VoIP which is capable of carrying voice and video calls over the high speed (4G) LTE data networks. The technology allows users to make HD quality voice, video calls with lower data consumption. Just like in the case of VoIP, VoLTE on LTE network also turns voice data into Internet Protocol packets while transferring the same from one device to the other. Compared to 3G circuit switched fallback, VoLTE calls are connected twice faster.
Technically, the 2G, as well as 3G networks, are designed to give priority to voice calls due to circuit-switched technology. Data is tunneled into voice connections while being transferred on such networks. On the other hand, LTE networks transfer only Internet Protocol packets. VoLTE uses lesser network resources making it affordable for telecom companies.
4G networks operate on the 800MHz spectrum and other frequencies that offer better reach inside buildings compared to the spectrum used by 2G or 3G networks. So, VoLTE calls can be made even when the network's signal is not so strong.
Users need a device that supports 4G VoLTE calling to use the service. Such devices working on VoLTE allow users to use voice and data at the same time. Mobile networks that offer VoLTE need to upgrade their infrastructure, including towers, accordingly. Jio’s network is 4G LTE, built within three years. Now, Airtel and Vodafone/Idea are slowly upgrading their infrastructure in a limited number of cities to offer 4G VoLTE service. Customers in various cities are being asked to replace their old SIMs with 4G SIM. Consumers are also requested to make sure that the network mode in their handset is set to auto (2G, 3G, and 4G). Of course, the call quality may not be as good as that of Jio because these networks are using a mixture of 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that all the networks like Vodafone, Airtel, RCom, Tata Docomo, and Aircel, had the golden opportunity to embrace VoIP and upgrade their existing data network to offer cheap data packs.
Currently, Jio offers Jio 4G VoiceApp for customers who use 2G, 3G or other phones that do not support VoLTE calling. Users can buy JioFi, download Jio 4G VoiceApp and start making free calls, free text messages and use internet on their old devices by connecting them with JioFi. If Jio has done it, other operators could have easily launched their VoIP calling apps in the past. They could have conveniently managed to keep at least some customers glued to the network after Jio’s launch. But instead of looking for newer opportunities, they created a cartel and opposed technological development in the sector.
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