Reliance Jio is now being viewed as a phenomenon in the Indian telecom industry. Reliance Jio officially announced the commercial roll-out of its services in India. As expected, the announcement set the Indian telecom market on fire. It all started with Mr. Ambani announcing that Reliance Jio won’t be charging a single penny for voice calls on any networks. Yes, you read that right – not a single penny for voice calls! The only word that we can use to describe the plans offered by Jio is “disruptive”.

image source: news18
Mukesh Ambani at the launch of Reliance Jio (image source: news18)

Airtel and Vodafone have significantly dropped their data prices. But Jio just swept them away with their disruptive plans and offers. And the disruptive plan is called disruptive for a reason – Managing Director and Chairman Mukesh Ambani announced that Jio users will only have to pay one price for all of Jio’s services – the whole suite of services including data and applications. Add to that the free voice calls from Reliance network to any network – and you have a plan that looks mind-blowing and disruptive, to say the least.

While voice calls look to be free, Rajan S Mathews, Director General of the Cellular Operations Association of India (COAI), thinks the voice calls aren’t exactly free, reports BGR. Pointing out that Reliance Jio is offering its voice calls on 4G network, he added that this 4G network is mainly used for data. The one thing that’s different from other service providers is that in Reliance Jio, when on a voice call, you will still use 4G, while with Airtel and Vodafone, you will see the network falling back to 3G or 2G when making a voice call. You can only use 4G for data on Airtel and Vodafone and not necessarily for voice calls.

This just means that you will end up using 4G data while you make voice calls. And Reliance Jio is not giving you free 4G data – it does charge you something, even if that something is as low as INR 50 for 1GB. Mathew adds –

“So, when you say that it has made voice calls free on an all data network how do you make a voice call? So, all you’re saying is that you’re selling a data plan, which is a bundled data plan and since VoLTE can work on that bundled plan you can call it free. But in the sense you’re buying a data plan and you use some of it to make voice calls but it goes through the data stream or you use it for all data but either way you can call it free but when there is a voice component that has to be handed over to an incumbent operator that has to be terminated on a mobile number that will attract an interconnect. So, how can you then say that you will give it away free when you’re incurring a cost of 14 paise?”

Will Reliance Jio’s so-called “free voice calls” revolutionize Indian telecom market and eventually lead to absolutely free calls? This may not happen anytime soon, although it’s very likely to happen in the future. As more and more users begin to rely on apps for making calls, the trend is slowly shifting.

Mathew goes on to say –

“As I said I don’t think there’s anything called free it’s only a question of how you position it. Because, there will always be a cost to providing a voice whether it’s on an all data network or a hybrid network or an all voice network it’ll always have a cost component. The only question is do you use it as a loss leader or do u cross subsidize it. We know that it happens in many industries, cross subsidies have been known to happen. Therefore, I don’t think that voice is going to go away. Indians have one of the largest minutes of usage anywhere in the world and at 36,318 minutes of use it’s far in a way higher than even what the advanced countries have so vernacular is so important that when u go on a data network your typing stops the great majority of people in vernacular it’s a tough thing to start typing in the vernacular”

It remains to be seen how real the “free voice calls” turn out to be and how the majority of the population interprets the word “free” in the context of 4G data. Let us know your thoughts!


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