WhatsApp calling hasn’t hurt us — Vodacom and MTN

Voice over IP (VoIP) services such as WhatsApp are a popular alternative to traditional voice calling provided by South Africa’s mobile network operators, and they have affected voice traffic on cellular networks.

According to a Vodacom spokesperson, the network operator experienced a 2% decline in voice traffic year on year but explained that factors other than VoIP services could be to blame.

“OTT services such as WhatsApp offer some competition to traditional voice traffic, as is evidenced by Vodacom’s recent quarterly trading update where we experienced a 2% year on year decline in voice traffic,” the operator said.

“This is, however, not solely attributable to the use of OTT services. It is also worth noting that voice minute decline has been offset by increasing data traffic.”

The spokesperson told MyBroadband that it would work to diversify its revenue streams to make the most of the circumstances.

“Vodacom has prioritised the provision of innovative and affordable voice and data packages such as our hero proposition Power Hour (R8 for 60 mins) and R12 for a 1GB for an hour that provides both value and convenience to customers, diversifying our revenue streams,” they said.

MTN executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband that they had noticed an increase in traditional and VoIP calls following a decrease in voice minutes usage before the Covid-19 lockdowns.

“MTN has seen an increase in both traditional calls and voice over internet protocol calls. Before the Covid-19 lockdown, there had been a decrease in the usage of traditional call minutes while VoIP usage continued to grow,” she said.

“The increased usage of 3G and 4G devices may contribute to VoIP popularity. However, at this point, consumers continue to utilise traditional voice calls and whilst there is still a need, MTN will continue serving its customers on both fronts.”

MyBroadband also contacted Telkom and Cell C for comment, but they had not answered our questions by the time of publication.

Jacqui O'Sullivan
MTN executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan

MTN previously told MyBroadband that it recognised the value of VoIP services and released products to promote their use.

“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.”

At the same time, Cell C told MyBroadband that, while it had initially noticed a decrease in traditional call volumes, the situation eventually stabilised.

“This indicates that there is still a need amongst customers to communicate via making a call,” Cell C said.

Telkom said it had not noticed any change to traditional call volumes.

BusinessTech reported that VoIP services began impacting South Africa’s telecoms industry in 2012. However, WhatsApp’s voice-calling feature launched on Android and iOS around three years later.

A MyBroadband analysis found WhatsApp’s VoIP feature to be far more cost-effective for South Africans, even when using out-of-bundle data.

South Africa’s mobile networks were charging customers an average of R1.67 per minute of use.

In comparison, out-of-bundle WhatsApp calls ranged in cost from R0.02 to R0.70 per minute, while South Africans paid between R0.02 and R0.06 each minute when using bundled data.

Now read: South Africa’s mobile networks have bid over R8 billion in spectrum auction

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WhatsApp calling hasn’t hurt us — Vodacom and MTN