Here’s Why Networks May Ultimately Make Voice Calls Free

Experts say the price of voice calls over mobile networks could possibly become obsolete with the advent of 5G and OTT (over-the-top) services such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

This was the focus of a panel discussion at the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (Satnac) in George on Tuesday.

During the event, panelists discussed whether the Internet of Things (IoT) is a ‘threat or opportunity’ for OTT players.

“Most technology is a commodity. 5G is a commodity,” said Lee Naik, Accenture Digital’s managing director, during a panel discussion.

“Prices of commodities lower and in some cases become free,” Naik said.

He explained that GPS, a product that used to cost thousands, was now free as an app on smartphones.

Naik said that there was also a possibility of free data in the near future and that as Voice Over IP (Voip) becomes more widely used, networks might be forced to drop call rates or even make them free.

Despite trends which show increases in data traffic, SA’s top two mobile networks still boast profit from voice traffic. These networks have also moved to hike voice tariffs in recent times.

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MTN, for example, recently increased call voice call rates by as much as 40% among some of their packages, in a price hike which kicked in from August 1.

And MTN’s quarterly update in April this year said that across its African and Middle East operations, its voice traffic had increased by 12.1% year on year, while data traffic increased by 123.3%.

Vodacom’s latest quarterly update revealed that its data revenue in SA increased 18% to R4.7bn for the period as average monthly data usage by customers grew 19.6% to 632MB.

In an earlier statement to shareholders, Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said the company’s ‘Just 4 You’ offers assisted in improved voice revenue trends, while at the same time reducing effective price per minute by 16.9%.

Meanwhile, Telkom’s new FreeMe packages offer users more data with unlimited calls with 20GB of data from R599, while FNB Connect and Me&You Mobile, running atop Cell C offers unlimited calling at R399 and R299 respectively.

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