Reliance Communications looks to tap data-based calling

Reliance Communications aims to increase the volume of people using data to make calls on its network, having seen a spike in app-to-app calling by its users, a top official said.
Gurdeep Singh, chief executive of RCom’s consumer business, said around 6-8% of its users currently make calls using apps, up from around 2% a year ago, and the telco was hoping to convert more of its traditional voice callers to use data for making calls rather than simply using apps to chat.
He was speaking to ET a day after launching a 200 MB data pack for Rs 39 that can be used to make calls made through apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook for the equivalent of 13 paise a minute.
Singh clarified that its pitch to consumers of a data-based call costing around 13 paise a minute was based on weighted average of calls made across different apps, but admitted that it would cost more than a Whatsapp-to-Whatsapp call on a regular data pack. The senior executive further said that making calls over the internet was cheaper than traditional voice calls where users may pay anything between 45 and 65 paise a minute.
“This (pack) helps us garner more market share and a disproportionate share of 4G customers in the future,” Singh said. RCom has 38.9 million data users as of March 2016, which grew 15.4% on-year. As of December 2015, it had 24.2 million 3G customers.
The 200 MB pack valid for 28 days, which has been rolled out in Gujarat on the 850 Mhz LTE network and will be expanded across India in a few weeks, can be used to browse the Internet and to make app-to-app calls. If used only for calls, it offers up to 300 minutes of such usage.
While Singh did not view the upcoming consumer shift to data from voice as cannibalising its own voice revenue, he said the company’s revenue model will evolve alongside the change in consumer behaviour as more people take to making calls over data. Voice revenue makes up more than 80% of revenue for telcos.
“We want people to buy just one data pack instead of buying two separate packs for voice and data… Someone may be concerned that they may lose voice revenue, but we have chosen to ride the trend as we believe this will be a future trend,” Singh said. He said that 4G handsets are available from price points of Rs 3,000 and upwards.
And going forward, chipset technologies are converging and all future handsets will support multiple spectrum bands, with all new smartphones being multi-band devices, trends which will trigger more calls using data networks.
Singh said RCom would comment separately on the telecom regulator’s consultation paper on Voice over Internet Protocol, a technology that allows calls to be made using a broadband Internet connection. He said RCom’s plan was not against the rules, including discriminatory pricing, as consumers were not being limited to make calls through a particular app. “They can use the data pack for making voice calls through an app or for browsing,” he said.