The popularity of VoIP services like WhatsApp has heavily impacted traditional voice income for South African mobile networks.
Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C told MyBroadband that traditional voice usage has decreased in recent years, and they have had to adapt accordingly.
The networks explained how WhatsApp calling has affected their businesses, with all four noting an increase in VoIP data usage.
“Proactive measures to curb the decline in voice usage have largely been successful, evidenced by the slight decrease in the consumption of traditional voice minutes,” said a Vodacom spokesperson.
Vodacom added that while it embraces all technologies that enhance its customers’ mobile call experience, it is also aware that some technologies don’t always offer the best call quality.
“Over-The-Top (OTT) IP voice services such as WhatsApp voice calls don’t always guarantee customer’s quality calls. VoLTE (4G calling), on the other hand, is completely under our control and we manage these to ensure the highest levels of service quality at all times.”
Vodacom said that there are three big advantages of standard GSM CS calls:
- Any phone can call any phone – whether it is a basic, feature, or smartphone.
- Calls work wherever network coverage is present – as opposed to packet-switched calls, which only work when there is data coverage.
- Voice calls offer higher quality than packet-switched calls.
The mobile network said that until all handsets are replaced with 4G or 5G smartphones, and these technologies have as good coverage as 2G, packet-switched calls will not replace standard voice calls or circuit-switched calls.
“The ‘best competitor’ to traditional voice calls is likely VoLTE (4G Calling) as it combines the best benefits of ‘Traditional’ circuit switch or standard calls with modern Packet-Switched technology,” said Vodacom.
The company added that ideally all voice traffic would be moved to VoLTE, as it is more efficient in terms of resources such as spectrum.
MTN told MyBroadband that it has experienced a decrease in traditional calls and an increase in VoIP usage to match.
The company added that increased usage of 3G and 4G devices is one of the main contributors to the increasing popularity of VoIP services.
“To ensure that we offer products and solutions that suit the needs of our customers, we have launched products that promote the use of VoIP services,” said MTN.
“Not only does this provide a cheaper alternative than traditional local calls, it also allows customers to communicate globally.”
MTN said consumers continue to use traditional voice calls, and while there is still a need, it will continue serving its customers on both fronts.
A Cell C spokesperson told MyBroadband that while it previously suffered a decrease in traditional call minutes being used, this has now stabilised.
“This indicates that there is still a need amongst customers to communicate via making a call,” said Cell C.
Cell C said it is always looking for ways to embrace new technologies such as VoIP where customer needs and available technologies enable it to do so.
The company believes that in the future, the market could reach a point where all calls are VoIP-based.
“We definitely do see this happening in the future as technology from the network, IT systems and handset/device evolve.”
Telkom said that it has not seen a decrease in the average minutes of use per user for both on and off-network calling.
“The need for customers to make voice calls is still relevant and is still a major driver of traffic on our network,” said Telkom.
The company added that its FreeMe bundles offer additional data which can be used for WhatsApp calls.
“We recognise that OTT providers are changing the way that people communicate and engage and we embraced them. Telkom does not distinguish between messaging, video, rich media or voice traffic via these applications and does not limit WhatsApp bundles to only messaging.”
The company also said that voice, like other data services, will become an application over a data network, and added that it is positioned to accommodate this in the future.