WhatsApp voice calling is set to launch in the coming weeks, offering users the ability to call other mobile phones free of charge (excluding mobile data costs).
In a recent MyBroadband poll over 70% of people said they are looking forward to WhatsApp voice calling.
Despite this ostensible popularity, the mobile operators have downplayed the threat of free WhatsApp voice calls on their voice revenues.
However, with millions of WhatsApp users in South Africa, some industry players said that this threat cannot be ignored.
Different rates filed for VoIP traffic
Unbeknown to many people, Vodacom and MTN filed higher data prices for VoIP with South Africa’s telecommunications regulator Icasa years ago.
Vodacom lodged a tariff of R10 per MB for VoIP traffic, while MTN lodged a tariff of R25 per MB.
MTN even warns users in its terms and conditions that: “You will also be charged retrospectively at R21.93 per Megabyte (VAT excluded) [R25 per MB VAT included] for any VoIP traffic…”.
These higher VoIP data tariffs have never been applied. There is, however, some concern that they may be implemented if VoIP traffic significantly impacts voice revenues.
What the mobile operators say
Larry Annetts, chief marketing officer at MTN SA, said they have no plans to charge more for VoIP data.
“Data prices have been coming down, we don’t have plans to increase prices for VoIP services,” said Alberts.
Cell C said that it cannot comment at this stage on whether it will charge higher rates for VoIP data traffic.
However, the company did say it is open to these types of services and will continue to embrace these players. “We will always try and find ways that are beneficial to all parties, including customers and the OTT players,” Cell C said.
Telkom said that “more granular mobile data charging based on application or traffic type” is currently not done on its network.
“A re-assessment of this will depend on the impact on the network should the technology mature and demand increases significantly,” said Jacqui O’ Sullivan, Telkom’s managing executive for group communication.
Vodacom said the likely direction for the industry was that voice pricing will be common across all carriers. This, Vodacom said, includes normal voice calls on 2G and 3G networks, and VoIP services like WhatsApp voice calling.
“This would reduce complexity for the customer and ensure that no service is discriminated against,” said Vodacom.