Led by Reliance Jio, India's service providers are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology, which allows phone calls to be made over 4G data networks.
Reliance Jio launched a VoLTE-enabled voice calling service last year, when it launched pure-play 4G commercial services. Since the company did not have a legacy network to fall back on, it was forced to seize the VoLTE initiative to support voice calls for subscribers.
Rival Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) is now planning to launch VoLTE services nationally by the end of this financial year. The company is conducting trials at several locations in the country. "We are conducting trials in five or six markets and we will be launching later this year," said Gopal Vittal, the CEO of Airtel's India and South Asia business, at a recent press event.
Idea Cellular Ltd. is also preparing to introduce VoLTE services on its 4G network by early 2018.
Operators are attracted to VoLTE as a means of providing higher-quality voice services at reduced prices. The technology holds particular appeal in India because of the hyper competitive market conditions that have developed since RJio began offering free voice services in late 2016. Operators also face competition from WhatsApp and other web players offering low-cost or free Internet telephony services. The incumbent operators, burdened by legacy networks, now see VoLTE as a way of supporting voice services at reduced tariffs.
Even so, RJio is the only Indian service provider offering VoLTE right now. That has helped the young company to attract as many as 125 million customers in several months, putting further pressure on older rivals.
Given the soaring interest in 4G and VoLTE services, 3G technology could well fade into obscurity before 2G does. Indeed, during a recent earnings call, Airtel's Vittal said India's 3G networks would be phased out faster than in other parts of the world, and that "India will get to a situation where 4G and 2G will co-exist for a while."
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading