Should Indian telecom operators worry about WhatsApp voice calling feature?

By September 20th, 2014 AT 9:51 AM

We had already analysed the affect of IM apps such as WhatsApp and Viber on telecom providers. Now, the rumours about WhatsApp introducing the voice calling feature have been doing the rounds since February. Last month, WhatsApp’s Jan Koum had indicated in a tweet that the voice calling feature would prove to be challenging to network carriers all around the globe. So should carriers be worried about the upcoming voice calling feature in the WhatsApp?

WhatsApp Voice Calling

A large percentage of users in India are still using feature phones. Yes, programs and initiatives like Android One would increase the smartphone penetration in the country but I still do not think that carriers should be afraid about it affecting their revenue from conventional voice calls, here’s why.

  1. First of all, WhatsApp will not be the first app/service to introduce the voice calling feature. Many apps such as Viber, LINE and Skype already have voice calling feature but they are still not as popular as IM or text messaging and you might be wondering to know the reason behind that.
  2. Voice calls through Internet needs high speed Internet connection but most of the users in India still don’t have access to Wi-Fi at home and office or high-speed data connection on their smartphones. According to my personal experience, even when using Wi-Fi, the voice calling through Internet has not been a satisfying experience. Voice calls through Internet can’t achieve the quality of conventional voice calls, at least in the near future.
  3. If the WhatsApp launches the voice calling feature and people start using it more than conventional voice calls, it would increase average data consumption per user. This means that carriers would start earning relatively more through data consumption even if the revenue through voice calls decreases.
  4. Proper voice calls through Internet might be possible when used through 4G LTE services but as we all know, there is still a lot of time for 4G LTE to rollout throughout the country and those data packs would be quite costly during the launch.
  5. For the last resort, telecom operators can always increase the price of data packs if WhatsApp voice calls start hitting their revenue.

As of now, there’s no immediate threat to Indian telecom operators from WhatsApp’s upcoming voice calling feature. Similar to all the WhatsApp focussed data packs which were launched by various telecom operators, I am sure that there would be similar offers and dedicated WhatsApp plans for voice calling. To be truthful, the WhatsApp voice calling feature is being blown out of proportion.

Even though Skype has been in the voice calling market for years, we still experience lags and connectivity issues so it should be noted that it is very hard for anyone to crack the voice calling market anytime soon.

Computer science engineer turned technology blogger. Following consumer electronics industry closely from 2006, he can now predict pretty much where the market is heading. He has a dream to own Android, Windows Phone and iOS smartphones all at the same time.

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