The Curious case of SmileVoice: Will Ugandans embrace VoLTE?

Curious case of SmileVoice

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[/blockquote]As the remaining fold of telcos still ride high on the ever decreasing voice and texts revenues, Smile Telecom recently spiced things a bit and went all data cutting across its range of services.Their recently launched SmileVoice also known as VoLTE, that’s short for Voice over LTE service and Smile Unlimited further cements the above since they make use of their 4G network and shockingly fore some with no legacy circuit switched 2G or 3G aspirations within vicinity, meaning Smile communications is indeed a true world-class data driven telco onto which VoLTE can find haven. Let’s try to explore this “curious case” of Smile Telecom’s new voice offering dubbed SmileVoice and how it impacts the current voice market in Uganda.

The increased demand for data albeit dwindling Voice & SMS revenues paints a positive picture in Smile’s favor(Smile neither offers traditional circuit switched voice nor SMS over its network). Unlike our traditional telecoms that have been relegated to just a mere pipe, providing infrastructure on which OTT services like Viber,WhatsApp, Telegram ride, Smile is now providing you the core of these OTT services charging you per MB consumed as long as you’re a registered Smile customer using the SmileVoice app. Therefore you can make random VoLTE calls across the world with a Smile registered number, at local rates with no extra costs involved. Your data account is all you need to activate and you’re good to go. You can check out the smile voice rates here.

“Anyone with a SmileVoice app can make calls as long as they have a stable internet connection”

But, before we declare Armageddon to the old folks, let’s consume Smile’s approach with a grain of salt since it has some hurdles to overcome with its ambitions especially in a country like Uganda. The option of allowing anyone with a SmileVoice app to make calls as long as they have a stable internet connection is viewed as self-inflicted pain. It’s so,owing to the fact that anyone can use any ISP to enjoy SmileVoice. This however creates a coup for the big guns of MTN and Airtel to capitalize on. These two have long established themselves at the top dogs in Uganda’s telecom space, with nationwide coverage, something smile can’t pride itself on therefore, the two can power a lot of Smile Voice apps with their data networks without users necessarily having to use Smile’s own data.

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s6 Edge plus_edge UXMaking a Smile VoLTE Call

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Smile further goes on to state that; “Clear VoLTE calls can only be made over its network provided both the caller and receiver ride on Smile’s infrastructure”. The remaining question is if adoption will play to their favor? The number of VoLTE compatible handsets is a fraction of 3G enabled smartphones that flourish in our social circles. I must add that 3G compatible handsets command a cheaper price than their 4G counterparts.

And making things worse is the fact that Smile only supports LTE in the 800Mhz frequency and currently still testing and deploying the 2600 MHz band as well. So you must improvise and have a handset supporting the above bands to enjoy the best of Smile lest your purchase their MiFi or routers and use their WiFi instead. This puts VoLTE out of reach of many possible customers and leaves them to hands of the big two, that support 2G GSM and 3G bands plus a wide 3G network coverage. And, with their unmatched big Ad spend, Smile Telecom will have to drain their coffers to put up a better fight.

Numbers don’t lie

Another worrying factor would be numbers. Most telcos are privy about their customer numbers– so is Smile. Mass adoption goes with numbers for something to take off. The only better way for Smile’s VoLTE to take off is if their installed customer base is large enough to induct several others to join, and the whole thing goes nationwide. It can only be seen in the future since Smile is tight-lipped about its customer numbers. And the competition? They have numbers in millions.

On the plus side, we commend Smile Communications as we earlier on predicted how data is fast shaping the telecom sector and urged all stakeholders to take notice. It turns out that Smile communications has long received the memo before we even disseminated the information. Its approach of going only data resonates with the future we predict, where the likes of MTN, Africell, Airtel and other telecoms must innovate fast enough to go beyond just being data pipes and offer us compelling services over their networks like Smile is trying to.