Gopal Vittal, chief executive of India’s largest mobile operator Bharti Airtel, recently announced plans to rollout voice over LTE, allowing customers to make calls over the mobile data network.
The CEO made indications that the service will likely be launched sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.
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The move is a response to new entrant Reliance Jio’s LTE-only network, launched in September 2016, which already offers voice over LTE calls at no extra charge.
Airtel has a deal in place with Nokia worth $60m to deploy voice over LTE. Vodafone and Idea are also planning to launch their own service in the near future and plan to work with Nokia and Ericsson.
Mobile operators often launch voice over LTE services in quick succession once a major player launches the service as first movers can offer improved quality calls.
This is likely the case in the highly competitive Indian market
Each of India’s seven biggest mobile network operators will likely make announcements around their voice over LTE plans in the next two years.
A key incentive for Indian operators to offer voice over LTE is the spectral efficiency gains.
It allows for more effective use of the mobile bandwidth allotted by the government regulator to operators.
India network operators often blame the lack of bandwidth as the major cause of dropped calls and other network issues as traffic on their networks continue to increase.
While the regulator offered more spectrum at auction in 2015 and 2016, operators left 11 percent and 40 percent respectively of the available bandwidth on the block due to minimum bid prices being too high.
In order for mobile users to take advantage of internet voice calling they need a voice over LTE handset and these are still too expensive for the average customer in India.
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However, Jio, the mobile operator that started the voice over LTE trend in India has been offering a low-cost, own-branded feature phone that supports it.
Home-grown brands like Micromax are expected to start producing phones that support voice over LTE and international handset players are likely to jump on the bandwagon pretty quickly.