Free voice calls via messaging apps: operators respond

Google announced on 9 September 2014 that its Hangout users can now make voice calls from Hangouts on Android, iOS, and the web.

“It’s free to call other Hangouts users, it’s free to call numbers in the U.S. and Canada, and the international rates are really low,” said Amit Fulay, Product Manager of Google+ Hangouts.

Calls to South African landlines are priced at 0.03USD (R0.33) per minute, while calls to mobile phones will cost 0.07USD (R0.76) per minute.

WhatsApp is also expected to launch voice calling soon. The latest version of WhatsApp for iOS carries a message which hints at voice calls.

“WhatsApp requires microphone access to send Voice Messages, record Videos with sound, make and receive Voice Calls,” a popup message reads.

Free voice calls on mobile messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Google Hangouts are striking at the heart of cellular operators’ main revenue stream: voice.

This raises the question as to whether local operators are concerned that the free voice services from messaging platforms will hurt their revenue.

Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman said that over-the-top (OTT) voice services from companies like Skype have not had a major impact to date.

However, said Boorman, as new services come to the market they think that there are some important issues for the various stakeholders to look at.

“These issues include the use of spectrum by unlicensed entities, as well as the potential impact on tax revenue and employment,” said Boorman.

“We’re not expecting any immediate impact from the new services but we’ll be keeping an eye on developments,” he added.

Cell C CEO Jose dos Santos said that operators need to embrace mobile messaging services and find ways to work with OTT players if needed.

Dos Santos said that they currently have no information to share on whether they have any plans to counteract VoIP services offered by mobile messaging services.

Mike Fairon, MTN South Africa’s GM for products and solutions, said that OTT players play a pivotal role in the mobile space and MTN welcomes the healthy competition they bring into the market.

“MTN has observed that WhatsApp is more popular than any of the other OTT messaging players, which leads us to believe that its impact is significant,” said Fairon.

“MTN doesn’t underestimate the impact of OTT players and continues to look for partnership models that work for both. We always strive to satisfy our consumers’ needs and requirements.”

Telkom was asked for comment, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.

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Free voice calls via messaging apps: operators respond