WiFi calling services gather speed in SA
WFi calling services are picking up steam in South Africa and is likely to be the new battleground among mobile phone f irms and hotspot network operators, such as AlwaysOn and Orange.
The of f s hoot of t he t elecoms industry, WiFi – a short-range wireless network – is increasingly becoming a lifestyle requirement as more South Africans access the internet via hotspots i n bars, restaurants, coffee shops, conference venues, airports and even on the bus services in the City of Tshwane.
In search of new revenue streams, operators such as AlwaysOn have launched WiFi calling services. Cell C, South Africa’s third-largest mobile phone operator, is also preparing to launch a WiFi calling offering.
Vodacom and MTN haven’t said if it will offer this service to its customers.
WiFi calling enables a user to make a call even if they are in an area with no coverage from any of Vodacom, MTN, Cell C or Telkom Mobile, provided you are connected to a WiFi hotspot that delivers WiFi calling.
There is nothing new about WiFi calling as apps like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber already provide this service by enabling smartphone users to make phone cal l s over t he i nternet and avoid connecting to the cellular phone operators’ wider networks.
AlwaysOn, which i s owned by Internet Solutions and controlled by Dimension Data, has launched calls over WiFi or its cellular data package – a much cheaper way of calling when compared to using mobile phone operators’ networks.
The company provides calls for free between all users of AlwaysOn Calling, but calls made from the service to local f i xed-line and cellular providers are charged at a f lat rate of R50 per hour of talk time at per second rate.
AlwaysOn provides its services to close to 1m 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 WiFi s e r v i c e s a r e available at Doppio Zero, Dulce Café, Fego, McDonalds, Mugg & Bean, Seattle Coffee Shops, Wimpy, Woolworths, City Lodge Hotels, Protea Hotels and Sun International Hotels.
The company’s WiFi services are also made available to travelling customers t hrough roaming agreements with BT WiFi, Orange, Sprint and Tata Indicom, among others.
One wonders whether Telkom, South Africa’s biggest f i xed- l i ne telephone group, is not about to join the race to provide WiFi calling.
Telkom has the largest WiFi network in the country. It had 6 100 on-air WiFi hotspots at the end of March. It seems likely that with such infrastructure, Telkom would be keen to provide WiFi calling services.
However, Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko says the company is presently “over-indexed” on voice and is not yet ready to offer WiFi calling services. “I don’t want to cannibalise it too quickly. But it’s going to happen anyway,” says Maseko.
Telkom’s fixed voice usage declined by 13.5% to R6.9bn in the year to endMarch.
“We continue to see pressure on voice usage, particularly in our enterprise business,” says Maseko.