Pure-play voice services, once the key contributor to the overall service revenue of operators, have been witnessing sluggish growth due to increasing competition from app-based calling services. Over-the-top (OTT) players like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber, which allow users to make calls by using data-based applications, have been jeopardising the voice revenues of operators. In fact, during the third quarter of 2016-17, the Indian telecom industry’s year-on-year voice revenue showed a de-growth of 1 per cent.
As a result, telecom operators have resorted to several strategies to lure customers to spend more time on their voice networks. While state-run operators such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited offer several exclusive free voice calling packs, private operators often combine discounted calling services with data to bring more users on board. Of late, several operators have announced innovative voice plans at discounted rates. Besides enhancing the voice minutes on operator networks, the newly announced plans will help incumbents hold their own in the face of stiff competition from Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL). The company has already created ripples in the Indian telecom market by announcing free voice calls, beginning September 5, 2016, for its customers till December 2016.
A look at some of the recent plans announced by operators…
RJIL has been offering free voice calls under its “preview offer”. The offer entitles users to unlimited high definition voice calls along with data services for 90 days. RJIL has also been offering pure-voice combo packs that combine voice minutes with other benefits. Currently, RJIL has seven voice combo packs in different price ranges and with varying validities. Further, RJIL offers pure-voice rate cutters that lower the base tariff with each recharge. The company currently offers three voice rate-cutter standard tariff vouchers in the small, medium and large categories. All of these have 30 days’ validity and offer discounted tariffs for local, STD and roaming calls. Moreover, RJIL has been bundling the preview offer not only with Reliance Retail’s LYF smartphones, but also with 20 more smartphone brands, including Samsung, Karbonn, Lava, Gionee and Micromax.
The main motive behind RJIL’s voice benefits was to build its subscriber base ahead of its commercial launch in the country. Since the preview offer was initially introduced only for the employees of the company and later extended to enterprises, partners and vendors, this move can be thought of as the operator’s attempt to offer a glimpse of its network to users ahead of its commercial launch.
Bharti Airtel recently launched “myPlan Infinity” for unlimited voice calling along with flexible data benefits to its post-paid users. The plans range from Rs 1,199 to Rs 2,999 and customers can avail of unlimited voice calling on local, STD and national roaming, along with data benefits that vary depending upon the plan opted for.
Through the offer, the company aims to make voice calls free for its customers, besides providing them the flexibility to combine this benefit with their individual data requirements. Further, customers with heavy voice usage will benefit under the new price points on offer. Airtel’s attempts can largely be termed as the company’s move to retain its post-paid customer base with heavy voice usage. The move is reportedly being driven by the free voice benefits already offered by RJIL.
Vodafone India has come up with “Vodafone RED” plans, which offer unlimited voice calling to its post-paid customers starting at Rs 1,699. The plan priced at Rs 1,699 offers free roaming for only incoming calls and unlimited local and national calls along with data benefits, whereas the Rs 1,999 plan offers unlimited roaming, unlimited local and national calls as well as data benefits.
According to the company, post-paid user behaviour has evolved significantly with higher usage of roaming services and data. Hence, the company aims to address the customer’s roaming, data and voice needs through these plans. Moreover, Vodafone India has launched new entry-level RED post-paid plans priced at Rs 499, Rs 699 and Rs 999, offering 700 minutes, 1,000 minutes and 2,000 minutes of voice calls, respectively, bundled with different data benefits for each plan.
Vodafone had earlier launched the Vodafone “U” plan in the Uttar Pradesh (West) circle that enabled the users to call one of their buddies at a special rate of 20 paise per minute with a buddy lifeline. The pack also offered several other lucrative features for the youth in the region. In addition, the operator had launched a bonus card in the Uttar Pradesh (East) circle to facilitate longer conversations at a lesser cost. With the bonus card, customers could make local calls at the rate of Re 0.25 per minute. Further, they could also select other plans as per their choice.
In the five southern states of India, Vodafone had launched the 1 paisa per second tariff for its prepaid subscribers. The plan was called the “One rate, One South” pack. It targeted working professionals, students, migrant labourers, businessmen, traders and drivers frequently travelling across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka and requiring dual SIMs to avoid roaming charges. According to the operator, the plan provided cost-effective mobile calls including local and STD to its 35 million prepaid customers across the five states. Further, there were no incoming roaming charges for customers within these states.
While RJIL, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India have been offering unlimited voice calling over mobile/wireless networks, BSNL recently announced unlimited free voice calling facility from its landline connection. It will allow customers to make unlimited free voice calls from their BSNL landlines to any mobile and landline every Sunday. BSNL already offers unlimited night calling from its landline to any network in the country between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Further, BSNL is also providing fixed line connections for a monthly rental starting at Rs 49 for the first six months to its new customers. According to BSNL, these new schemes will let people experience modern facilities like call forwarding to mobile phones that are available on BSNL landlines. Moreover, it aims to encourage people to use their landline phones when they are at home and save on their mobile phone bills with the free calling scheme. According to BSNL, the scheme would help expand broadband services in the country through fixed line connections, which will be instrumental in the proliferation of good quality broadband service, an essential element of the Digital India mission.
BSNL had earlier launched the Student Special Plan on a promotional basis for its prepaid mobile services in the Jammu & Kashmir circle. It offered reduced call rates to subscribers in the region, in addition to data benefits.
At a time when most operators are trying to revive their withering voice business, primarily to ward off growing competition from OTT players, Reliance Communications seems to be moving out of sync from its industry peers. In a bid to encourage app-based calling, the operator recently announced a lucrative data plan that costs only Re 1 for its customers in Delhi-NCR. Named, “call drops se chutkara”, the plan offers 7 MB data per day, which can be used for browsing and/or data calling. As per the company, if exclusively used for app-to-app calling, the 7 MB data being offered will be sufficient to make 10 minutes app-to-app calls per day. Similar plans have been launched in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where voice calls in high definition quality can be made from data-based applications like JioChat, WhatsApp, Skype and Viber. at minimal prices. The plan will soon be launched in the Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka circles