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General News Airtel to counter Jio with a VoLTE launch, award $60-mn nationwide contract to Nokia
Bharti Airtel has awarded a $60 million (402 crore) pan-India deal to Finnish gear maker Nokia to implement voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) calling technology which may be launched for subscribers within this year, people familiar with the matter said.

“Airtel was piloting the technology in a few areas and after successful testing, is now looking at a bigger launch by giving a pan-India contract for IMS (IP multimedia system) solution to Nokia,” one of these people said. The Sunil Mittal-led telecom operator had earlier this year given a smaller contract for IMS solution to Nokia for trial of VoLTE technology in select circles, ET had reported earlier this year.

VoLTE allows an operator to offer both voice and data without switching between bands, with voice being just another application that rides on an LTE data network, a technology that newcomer Reliance Jio has adopted. Airtel currently offers calling on the legacy circuit-switch technology.

Industry watchers said Airtel may be in an advantageous position if it launches VoLTE services any time soon, considering that Jio hasn’t been able to publicise the benefits of this technology due to the interconnection issue, which the 4G entrant claimed is resulting in massive call failures.

Airtel will use VoLTE as a complimentary service to its existing voice offering. In case VoLTE is not available in an area, Airtel users would be able to fall back within the network to lower technologies, which are 2G and 3G, industry watchers say.

An Airtel spokesperson declined comment on the latest pan-India contract to Nokia and VoLTE launch plans. He, however, said the telco is piloting/testing VoLTE in a few places “but there are no launch timelines that we can share at this point”.

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal last month said that for the company to go commercially live with VoLTE, “we would need to see how much VoLTE phones are live on our network”.

Consumer demand in smartphones that support the VoLTE feature has nearly doubled since Jio Infocomm’s 4G launch early September. More than 14 million VoLTE-enabled smartphones are estimated to have been shipped into India in the September quarter, nearly twice the number in the previous quarter, Cybermedia Research said.

“With Reliance making voice free, there is pressure on competitors to respond with their own bundled or free voice offer and VoLTE becomes key to bundled voice offers as cost of provisioning a VoLTE call is much lower than the cost of provisioning a circuit switch call,” said Rohan Dhamija, India and South Asia head at Analysys Mason.

Besides the cost factor, VoLTE brings benefits such as spectral efficiency, which may help telcos tackle call drops situation to an extent. Furthermore, VoLTE as a technology offers various advantages such as better smartphone battery life, less call set up time and better voice quality.

Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, the country’s second and third largest telecom carriers, could also join the VoLTE race soon, having bolstered their 4G spectrum holdings in the recently-concluded auctions. Vodafone is already trialling VoLTE in select areas using Nokia’s IMS solution, while Idea Cellular is in advanced talks with both Ericsson and Nokia, and is likely to award the deal in coming days, sources say.
The two telcos did not respond to emailed queries.

Thanks given by: avtarkaint

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