KOLKATA: Mobile phone consumers are unlikely to be charged anything extra for making voice calls over public WiFi networks as telcos prepare to roll-out the internet calling option, which can help overcome the call drops menace in areas where mobile connectivity is patchy.
No 2 carrier Vodafone India, which is merging its operations with third-largest Idea Cellular, already has similar products on offer in markets like the UK and Australia and is preparing to replicate them in India that would enable their customers to make internet calls using their nearest public WiFi networks — even in absence of mobile signals — and route such calls to destination mobile or landline networks.
Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio Infocomm, in turn, is learnt to have “successfully” tested its internet calling product to launch such services nationally while market leader Bharti Airtel is widely expected to start technical trials shortly, although launch schedules are yet to be drawn up.
Such voice over WiFi calling services are reckoned to work immediately on 4G VoLTE devices.
Earlier this week, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) tweaked telco licence rules, allowing mobile carriers to allot a single mobile number for both cellular and internet telephony services, which paved the way for telcos to offer voice over WiFi services. Besides allowing customers to remain connected in areas where mobile coverage is weak, the facility will also help telcos free up airwaves for meeting surging higher data demand.
“Vodafone, which already offers the WiFi calling facility to customers in the UK and Australia, is likely to replicate the services in India initially to postpaid customers with compatible 4G VoLTE phones,” a person aware told ET.
Such WiFi calling services, the person said, “are likely to be offered at no additional cost, in that, all such calls will use up a postpaid customer’s minutes allowance on his/her existing plan”. The services can be immediately rolled out in 13 markets where Vodafone India has expanded its VoLTE coverage.
With voice calls already free – or dirt cheap – across most existing plans and competition still intense, mobile phone companies have no scope in any case to charge for the new WiFi calling services, say industry watchers.
A senior Idea executive, in turn, said the Kumar Birla-led carrier has the technical ability to immediately offer WiFi calling services, especially having recently expanded its VoLTE network coverage across 20 circles. “The WiFi calling option will have a beneficial impact on network congestion, reduce call drops and expand reach of the Idea network,” he said.
However, Vodafone and Idea are expected to firm up their WiFi calling services strategy after their merger that is expected to close this month.
Industry executives expect the WiFi calling option to be particularly handy in rural locations, inside old buildings with thick walls, in underground garages or inside metro stations, where mobile signals, typically, tend to be weak.
At press time, Vodafone India, Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio did not reply to ET’s queries.
Under the internet telephony rules notified by the government, telcos have also been allowed to use each other’s data networks when consumers make voice calls over WiFi, even letting third-party companies offer the internet calling with a valid licence. All those offering such services though will need to heed all lawful interception and monitoring requirements, as required for normal calls.