Is it the Right Time for Airtel to Launch VoLTE?

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It is the year Voice over LTE (VoLTE) finally picked up in India and is further likely to gather momentum as the year comes to an end.

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio launched VoLTE-powered 4G services last year. It was on the back of VoLTE capability that Jio was able to offer free voice calling for life to its subscribers. VoLTE allows voice calling at a fraction of the cost when compared with the cost of calling using the traditional network. The service provider now has more than 125 million subscribers. Recently, Airtel, India’s largest service provider launched VoLTE services in the circles of Mumbai, Goa and Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.

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VoLTE will allow Airtel to provide high definition voice services at much lesser cost. More importantly, it will enable the company to fight competition from Over-the-top players, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, who offer free voice calling facility.

But is it the right time to launch VoLTE services for Airtel or is it already too late for the service provider?

Airtel is preparing to phase out its 3G services in the next two years and move all its subscribers to the 4G network. This will help the service provider to enhance the quality of experience and reduce its network management cost at the same time. The launch of VoLTE services is a step in this direction. As the company expands VoLTE across the country, it will be able to reduce its expenditure and offer better voice quality to its subscribers.

What has also led Airtel to push VoLTE plans is the IUC mess. Last month the Indian Government reduced the IUC from 14 paise per call to just six paise. The Government also decided to entirely scrap IUC from 2020. Airtel, along with Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, was the biggest loser from this decision. However, deployment of VoLTE helps them to reduce this expenditure. The coming few months are likely to see more VoLTE related announcements from Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea.

As the number of 4G devices increases in the country, more and more subscribers will be able to enjoy VoLTE services. In this context, cheap 4G devices will help the company. The launch of JioPhone has already brought the 4G and VoLTE devices down, making them accessible to more and more people. Airtel has tied up with Karbonn to launch a 4G smartphone at Rs 1,399.

Airtel uses Circuit Switched Fall Back (CSFB) technology to enable its 4G subscribers to make calls in areas where it is yet to launch VoLTE services. The company is planning to expand VoLTE services across the country soon.

What also works in Airtel’s favour is that thanks to work done by its archrival, Reliance Jio there is a fair bit of awareness about VoLTE now and the company will not need to educate its subscribers about the technology. At the time of Jio’s launch, subscribers hardly knew what VoLTE was, but that’s no longer the case. The increased awareness will help Airtel to easily move subscribers from other technologies to VoLTE.

With the launch of VoLTE, it is almost level playing field between Airtel and Jio as Airtel will be able to offer voice services at much-reduced rates.

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