Vodacom welcomes WhatsApp voice service

2014-03-03 12:05
Vodacom has the largest customer base in South Africa and is expected to be the hardest hit by the government's plans to halve the fees mobile companies can charge each other to use their networks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Vodacom has the largest customer base in South Africa and is expected to be the hardest hit by the government's plans to halve the fees mobile companies can charge each other to use their networks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Voice Over IP (Voip) services don't represent much of a threat to mobile operators, despite the promise of upending the mobile market, says Vodacom.

The operator was responding to reports that WhatsApp intended launching a calling service.

Announcing the service at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum said that its voice service would be launched after June 2014.

"It highlights the data revolution going on in South Africa. As per our most recent trading statement, data volumes are up 70% year on year and Voip is one example of the things driving increased usage," Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman told News24.

Koum said the voice service would be launched to Android devices first, followed by iPhone and the Windows Phone platform. WhatsApp was recently purchased by Facebook for $19bn.


A Voip service could consume a significant percentage of bandwidth but mobile operators in SA are constrained by the continued delay in awarding next generation mobile broadband spectrum.

The government through the department of communications has indicated that it intends to accelerate the development of wireless broadband.

Despite acknowledgement that mobile broadband was critical to SA, the regulator, Icasa (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) has not awarded mobile spectrum, in part because of the national broadcaster's failure to migrate its services to digital terrestrial television.

"The DOC will also ensure that impediments to wireless broadband rollout are removed, by issuing the necessary policy directives to Icasa to ensure the rapid assignment of high demand spectrum required to extend the wireless component of the open access broadband network by mid-2014," says the Draft National Broadband Policy.

Vodacom said that deployment of Voip services similar to Skype highlights the need to invest in network infrastructure.

"It also highlights how continued network investment is crucial to the future of mobile communications in South Africa. We're ramping up our capital investment from around R7bn in the last two years to around R9bn in the current financial year to handle the increased data demands and to allow us to continue to bring the cost to communicate down," Boorman said.

National priority

"Any mobile operator that isn't ramping up investment may find themselves with quality and capacity issues," he added.

The communications minister has indicated that the government was focused on delivering mobile broadband as a national priority.

"The rollout of broadband is integrally linked to the growth of a 21st century economy and ultimately to addressing one of our country's pressing problems, the reduction of unemployment, especially amongst our youth," said Communications Minister Yunus Carrim at the South Africa Connect: Creating Opportunities, Ensuring Inclusion conference late in 2013.

Boorman said that while Voip was not new, the WhatsApp service would help to compensate for declining voice revenues.

"In the long run we will see higher data usage offsetting pressure on voice revenues."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    whatsapp  |  vodacom  |  mobile

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