Internet calls plunge 20% in January-March

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The government may have just amended the licence conditions to make internet telephony rules more liberal, but data sourced from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) show that during January-March 2018, such calls with total outgoing minutes of 258 million saw a sharp decline of around 20% compared to the preceding quarter. On a year-on-year basis, volumes remained flat.

In contrast, mobile voice call volumes for all the major telecom operators —Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — expanded during the January-March quarter compared to the preceding quarter. While Bharti and Jio each reported a 20% expansion in voice minutes, Vodafone and Idea each reported a 17% growth.

This means that mobile operators providing free voice calls in their bundled voice and data plans have made consumers take less to WhatsApp calling when it comes to making domestic calls. The dip is also because in the free voice call tariff schemes, mobile operators provide free STD calls, where earlier, consumers tended to prefer WhatsApp because of lower charges.

Internet telephony calls are basically ones made through apps which are carried on internet protocol rather than wireless networks which carry normal mobile calls. More than 95% of such calls today are made through WhatsApp, which has emerged as the most convenient app for messaging as well voice and video calls. These calls can be made through wireless internet as well as wireline broadband. The data put out by Trai relate to calls made using wireline broadband.

That WhatsApp calling witnessed a rise from the January-March quarter of 2017 till the October-December quarter of 2017 but witnessed a sharp decline in January-March quarter of 2018 can be explained because initially free voice calls were offered only by Reliance Jio, while other operators had limited plans which offered free calling. Slowly as other operators switched to free voice calls even for STD services, the charm for WhatsApp calls declined.

Still, some spurt in WhatsApp calling can be there if the network quality of mobile operator is weak in some areas, leading to congestion or high call drops.

A major reason for drop in WhatsApp calling during January-Mach 2018 quarter could be further decline in bundled voice and data tariff by operators for mobile calls. During January, Jio announced a Rs 50 cut in all its tariff plans and increased the daily 4G data consumption limit by 500 MB. It also announced cash back offers on recharges of `398 and above during the same month.

This led the other three incumbent operators to respond with 1.4 GB 4G data per day and free voice calls for as low as `199 per month, besides offering cash back on recharges of Rs 398 and above.