App-based voice calls on the rise

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New Delhi | Updated: April 1, 2018 4:04:00 AM

Customers increasingly using WhatsApp, Hike for domestic calls.

whats app, social media apps, smartphones, wifiAs data became more freely available and more users flocked to apps such as WhatsApp, call quality of internet calls not only improved, but also worked on lower bandwidth requirements. (Reuters)

Not very long ago, WhatsApp, Facetime or Viber, etc, were used to make ‘free’ international calls, but lately, these Web-based apps are being used regularly for domestic calls as well. While the consumers are happy to make video calls, understandably, telecom companies are seeing red, as customers prefer to use these apps despite telcos providing bundled voice and data packs that provide free voice calls.

The use of such apps to make domestic calls started increasing 2016 onwards as penetration of smartphones, WiFi and cheap data became common. Telecom and technology research firm Warp Speed Reads attributes the growth in domestic calls via apps to better quality, as mobile network congestion often leads to problems in either connecting calls or frequent call drops.

Data compiled by the agency of outgoing calls made through these apps shows that the biggest surge has been recorded in domestic calls. In 2016, consumers made 24.64 billion minutes of outgoing domestic calls through chat apps, registering a growth rate of more than 101% y-o-y.

Similarly, during 2017, such calls rose by a whopping 145% y-o-y to 60.50 billion minutes. On the other hand, international calls grew at just 17% y-o-y to 21.56 billion minutes in 2016, while in 2017, they grew by only 20% y-o-y to 25.92 billion minutes.

The total app-based outgoing calls traffic grew a healthy 51% y-o-y to 46.20 billion minutes in 2016 and then an impressive 87% y-o-y to 86.40 billion minutes in 2017.

This is mainly on account of the huge growth in outgoing domestic calls in the last two years. Most of these calls were made through WhatsApp, Hike and Viber.

Says Warp Speed Reads founder Neha Dharia: “Previously, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) was primarily used for international calls due to the costs associated with making an international call via the telco. However, as data became more freely available and more users flocked to apps such as WhatsApp, call quality of internet calls not only improved, but also worked on lower bandwidth requirements. All of this made it an ideal situation for users to even make domestic calls.”

Adds a top executive from a leading telecom operator: “Cheap bundled mobile data plans have become a norm. With data costs down 95% in the last one and a half years, consumers are using more internet, especially on their devices. So not only are they watching more videos, they are also making more calls. This is also supported by high instances of call drops and call interruptions.,”

As per a latest report by IAMAI, expenditure on voice has been steadily decreasing from 2013; and with popularity of VOIP and video chatting, the expenditure on voice services has decreased drastically. In just five years from 2013 to 2017, the ratio of data to voice went from 45:55 to 84:16.

Going ahead, Dharia expects to see growth in app-based calling for both domestic and international calls. “However, given that India is a voice-heavy country focused on calling within the market, we will expect to see stronger growth in domestic calling than international calls. Additionally, as data access improves, the VoIP trend will slowly give way to video calling,” she adds.

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