Exclusive: Smile Telecom to launch first VoLTE, HD voice service in Uganda

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[/blockquote]Smile telecom, one of Uganda’s leading 4G-LTE Internet mobile broadband providers will next month switch on their Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service to the public. This will enable all existing and new Smile subscribers to talk to each other over an HD voice service. It will utilize Smile’s LTE data network to carry voice traffic, unlike traditional cellular networks that have different streams for voice and data services. Calls from 4G networks are voice-over-IP cellular based just like Skype or WhatsApp calls unlike the traditional circuit switched (CS) based calls from regular 2G and 3G networks and hence clear audio fidelity is perceived by the customer. When launched next month, this will make Smile Telecom the first mobile network in Uganda to let customers make calls over VoLTE.

Last month, the company announced in a press release that they are heavily investing in their networks across Africa with a massive $ 365 investment. This investment will see Smile expand their 4G-LTE network in Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria and also introduce VoLTE that reportedly rivals the existing 3G coverage.

Smile’s upcoming HD voice service will use an industry standard for HD voice (a 13-24kbps codec, Africell Uganda’s 3G HD voice is at 12.2kbps), it will initially only be available between customers that have compatible smartphones on Smile’s own network.

Network code is 072, the same used by Vodafone Uganda

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Sources have informed this blog that the service is under mature stages of testing and currently there is only interconnection with Airtel Uganda; this means only Airtel customers can call Smile subscribers and vice versa. Interconnection to other networks including MTN, UTL, Africell and Vodafone  is still underway. It should be noted that interconnect calls will not be High Definition quality unlike on-net 4G to 4G calls.

Sources further hinted at a video call service underway. VoLTE also brings an integrated video calling service, which Smile customers will be able to launch right from their phones’ dialers. Video calls can be initiated during a VoLTE voice call, and callers will reportedly be able to switch between the two at will. We are still waiting to see how that will play out since UTL, Orange now Africell had a similar video service over 3G but it failed to pick up among the Ugandan populous; for those who new about it.

All Smile Telecom’s voice numbers will use the prefix dailing network code (072), the same used by Vodafone Uganda.

The Handset setback

The biggest drawback here for Smile customers will be the handsets that will be compatible with the service (on-net calls). Customers that are interested in using HD Voice (VoLTE) will need a compatible smartphone, what remains to be see if whether this will be an opt-in service that centers around customer choice, but it’s hard to not see that the carrier is hedging its bets against a new service potentially causing issues for customers especially that there are a handful of smartphones that support VoLTE.

The telecom price wars

Smile communications’ timing to enter the voice market comes at a time when the two telecom giants, Airtel Uganda and MTN are locked into cut throat price wars that’s have seen them drop voice calls to UGX 6 and UGX 180 per second and per minute respective. Such prices will definitely undercut profits for the small networks like Smile Telecoms. It would be interesting to know Smile’s voice tariffs when the service launches later in next month.