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April 15, 2022
China Mobile is preparing to launch the world’s first commercial 5G VoNR (voice over new radio) service on May 1.
It began a trial on April 12, promising a calling service with ultra-low latency, high definition image and one-click video.
Besides the premium call quality, it allows services such as screen sharing and remote collaboration, enabling consumers to watch videos or go shopping together. China Mobile has already deployed it for video-based cloud customer service for enterprise and government clients.
On the plus side, it’s a mobile-native service, requiring no app downloads. China Mobile's launch is supported by big handset players such as Oppo, Xiaomi, Honor and Huawei.
The main attraction for consumers is likely the pricing. Video calls will be charged per minute at the same rate as standard voice, with no data charge, so for most users, it will come at no extra cost.
But there are ample grounds for skepticism. After all, telcos have ceded the voice and messaging market to social media and messaging apps with barely a shot.
This is especially true for China Mobile. Its Fetion messaging service grew to 200 million users following its debut back in 2007, but was quickly run over by the WeChat juggernaut..
In the 5G era, China Mobile and the two other state-run telcos have been trialing 5G
messaging as the latest weapon against so-called over-the-top (OTT) voice services.
The RCS-based service has plenty of features yet it has barely made a ripple since China Telecom unleashed the first commercial service in January.
Most likely this is because it is charging users for every message sent. It may be just 0.10 yuan per message, but it's still a powerful disincentive. It doesn't help that customers can't connect with users on other networks.
That's not a problem for 5G VoNR. Chinese operators have agreed on an IMS interconnection between their networks.
But the new service does have two basic problems. Operators will be watching to see how China Mobile deals with them.
The first problem is pricing. If the service does take hold, will it be sustainable to sell premium 5G video calls as part of the customer's basic voice minutes package?
The other issue is simply customer demand for the suite of VoNR services. Is the advanced call quality and low latency enough to attract users away from their familiar WeChat video calls?
These may not be insurmountable. But for the meanwhile 5G VoNR smacks of smart technology in search of a problem to solve.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
Read more about:Asia
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