All Indians who thought they could download an app and reduce their prepaid telephone bills by making VOIP (voice over internet protocol) calls, have a rude call back to reality from Airtel. The service provider’s move to charge more than what it does for regular Internet usage for data-based calls is sure to spur others to follow suit.
Despite the debate over net neutrality, the fact is that not many countries have differential rates for VOIP and regular data services. At least, not so far. However, it remains to be seen what kind of money this brings in for Indian service providers, if it does not put off people enough to reduce their data consumption altogether. Indian customers, the shrewd lot they are, don’t use much of paid data for services like Skype and Viber. They would rather pay for coffee and get some free Wi-Fi than switch on the data on their smartphone. But there is a larger story here. While, on one end, Indian service providers woo customers to join the world wide web, showing them the bait of cheap data and even free internet, on the other, they are increasing the cost of accessing the net for those already hooked. India might have one of the cheapest internet rates in the world, but let us not keep believing that it will stay so for much longer. There is a lot of money to be made in data, and that is one of the real reason why there is a push towards cheaper smartphones. At one point or the other, a smartphone-user is sure to end up being a data hogger, and that is when the companies will tighten their grip. In a market as big as India, even half the smartphone users switching on their data is big money. While internet might be literally free for many entry level users now, let’s not think of this bait as a free meal.