Wi-Fi calling service are picking up steam in South Africa and is likely to be the new battleground among mobile phone firms and hotspot network operators, such as AlwaysOn and Orange.
The offshoot of the telecoms industry Wi-Fi – a short-range wireless networks – is increasingly becoming a lifestyle requirement as more South Africans access the internet via hotpots in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, conference venues, airports and other public areas even bus services in the City of Tshwane.
In search of new revenues streams, operators such as AlwaysOn have launched Wi-Fi calling services. Cell C, South Africa’s third largest mobile phone operator, is also preparing to launch Wi-Fi calling offering.
Vodacom and MTN haven’t said if they will offer this service to its customers.
Wi-Fi calling enables a user to make a call even if they are in an area with no coverage from either Vodacom, MTN, Cell C or Telkom Mobile, provided you are connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot that delivers Wi-Fi calling.
There is nothing new about Wi-Fi calling as apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, etc., already provides this service by enabling smartphone users to make phone calls over the internet and avoid connecting to the cellular phone operators wider networks.
AlwaysOn, which is owned by Internet Solutions and controlled by Dimension Data, has launched calls over Wi-Fi or their cellular data package – a much cheaper way of calling when compared to using their mobile phone operators’ networks.
The company provides calls for free between all users of AlwaysOn Calling, but calls made from the service to local fixed line and cellular providers are charged at a flat rate of R50 per hour of talk time at per second rate.
AlwaysOn provides its services to close to a 1 million monthly users.
Hayden Lamberti, AlwaysOn’s managing director, says: “The South African consumer is having a rough time of it at the moment with mobile tariff hikes across the board. For South Africans wanting to get the best deal and maximise their time online, this is the perfect answer. It is easy to get, easy to use and users get to save a lot of money.”
AlwaysOn Wi-Fi services are available at Doppio Zero, Dulce Café, Fego, McDonalds, Mugg & Bean, Seattle Coffe Shops, Wimpy, Woolworths, City Lodge Hotels, Protea Hotels and Sun International Hotels.
The company’s Wi-Fi services are also made available to travelling customers through roaming agreements with BT Wi-Fi, Orange, Sprint and Tata Indicom, among others.
One wonders whether Telkom, South Africa’s biggest fixed-line telephone group, is not about to join the race to provide Wi-Fi calling.
Telkom has the largest Wi-Fi network in the country. It has 6 100 on air Wi-Fi hotspots as at 31 March 2015.
It seems likely that with such infrastructure, Telkom would be keen to provide Wi-Fi calling services.
However, Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko says the company is presently “over-indexed” on voice and was not yet ready to offer Wi-Fi calling services.
“I don’t want to cannibalise it too quickly. But it’s going to happen anyway,” says Maseko.
Mobile operators, especially Cell C and hotspot network firms such as AlwaysOn, can take a breather that Telkom is not yet eyeing Wi-FI calling services.
Telkom’s fixed voice usage declined by 13.5% to R6.9 billion in the year to end-March 2015.
“We continue to see pressure on voice usage, particularly in our enterprise business, resulting in an 11.9% decrease in fixed-line voice and interconnection revenue to R8.3 billion,” says Maseko.