WhatsApp voice calling is set to launch in the first quarter of 2015, and South African network operators are ready to support the service.
WhatsApp’s voice calling will be a mobile-only service, competing against the likes of WeChat, Viber, and Skype, and was originally set to launch in Q2 2014.
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum explained that the delay was due to several technical issues with the service which needed to be worked through.
One of these issues was how the voice-over-IP (VoIP) service will operate when the data coverage or network quality is poor.
Koum said that WhatsApp has many users in emerging markets where GPRS and EDGE are often the standard.
This raises the question as to what South African mobile users can expect when WhatsApp’s voice calling is launched locally.
WhatsApp and South African network quality
Any VoIP service needs good network quality to function well. Local mobile operators are confident they make the grade.
Larry Annetts, chief marketing officer at MTN SA, said they are confident their data network can support good-quality mobile VoIP calls. “It has been supporting Viber and WeChat,” he said.
Cell C said it is confident that its network can support high-quality VoIP calls. “In addition, we will make significant investments in our data network in 2015 to make provision for the growing data demand,” the company said.
Telkom said that its network has been engineered for high bandwidth and low latency. “Our customers are already using other VoIP applications like Apple FaceTime, Viber, and Skype,” said Jacqui O’ Sullivan, Telkom’s managing executive for group communication.
Vodacom said it does not have any concerns about its ability to support VoIP, due to the massive investment it continues to put into the network.
Throttling or shaping VoIP traffic
Some users have expressed concern that the mobile operators may shape or throttle VoIP traffic if WhatsApp voice calling starts to eat into their voice revenues.
MTN said that this was unlikely to happen. “We have not deprioritized the other OTT services in the past, and we don’t anticipate any change in our approach,” said Annetts.
Cell C said it cannot comment on whether it may deprioritize (shape or throttle) VoIP traffic, at this point in time.
“What we can state is that we are open to these types of services and will continue to embrace these players to enhance customer experience and offer value-added services on the network,” Cell C said.
Telkom said that it currently does not shape VoIP traffic on its radio access network. “All mobile data traffic is treated the same at this time,” said O’ Sullivan.
“VoIP applications can impact the network as a result of several technical factors such as increased network signalling. We will need to assess the impact should the technology mature and demand increases significantly,” she added.
Vodacom said that it was difficult to make any blanket statements about how it would manage network traffic in the future.
Vodacom added that the goal would be to make sure all types of traffic were supported, and that this was done in such a way that no one service adversely impacted the ability to deliver other services.