Airtel, Vodafone, Idea May Launch VoLTE To Counter Jio

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New Delhi: Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular are likely to launch voice over LTE or VoLTE services by the end of September as part of their efforts to upgrade technology and compete better with the new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm.

Analysts said this could enable these incumbent telecom operators to keep their low-end subscribers from switching to Mukesh Ambani-led Jio, which runs an all-VoLTE network and offers voice calls for free.

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VoLTE, which offers voice in a data format, is set to gain in importance, they said, as it can be delivered at a lower cost per minute than traditional voice.

The three telcos are likely to launch VoLTE services just when low-cost VoLTE-ready devices are expected to hit critical mass in the domestic market, people familiar with the matter told ET.

“Airtel’s VoLTE plans are on track as it has kicked off field or commercial trials in Mumbai and Delhi, and it will soon launch the service commercially in India,” said one of the persons, who did not wish to be identified. Another person said Vodafone has done basic trials of the technology and is readying to launch VoLTE services soon.

VoLTE allows an operator to offer both voice and data, with voice being just another application that rides on an LTE data network. The incumbent telcos currently offer calling on the legacy circuit-switch technology.

An Airtel spokesperson said that the telco is piloting VoLTE in a few places, but didn’t comment on any time frame for launch of services. Vodafone and Idea did not comment on ET’s queries.

Idea Cellular managing director Himanshu Kapania recently said the No. 3 telco would introduce VoLTE over next two quarters.

“We are initially planning to be able to build VoLTE for about 20-25 million customers, which is sufficient enough to be able to take care of our 4G expectations in volume in India,” he said.

Having finished testing, Idea Cellular expects to launch its VoLTE services in the July-September quarter and cover 20-25 million customers.

Rohan Dhamija, partner and head for India and South Asia at Analysys Mason, said VoLTE device proliferation outside of Jio’s base is probably not at a critical mass, a reason why Airtel and other incumbents haven’t launched VoLTE services yet.

“In fact, given that VoLTE has a lower cost per minute than traditional voice, in a scenario where the industry is under tremendous pricing pressure, in due course the importance of VoLTE could increase,” Dhamija said.

Telcos should continue with VoLTE testing and be ready to launch commercially once device proliferation reaches critical mass, he said.

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