Increase in prepaid tariffs can result in higher usage of OTT calling services.

The sharp increase in prepaid tariffs by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm could lead to a rise in calls made over over-the-top (OTT) apps such as WhatsApp, say analysts. But telecom operators stand to benefit from a likely boost to data consumption and revenue, as a result of higher usage of OTT calling services.

“In a plan with voice tariff hiked and data price being same, calling will shift to OTT,” International Data Corporation’s India research director Navkendar Singh said, adding that voice-over-OTT apps using WiFi for connectivity could also rise, as WiFi connectivity at home and public places expands.

The three private sector mobile phone companies have recently raised tariffs by up to 40% in a bid to increase average revenue per user, and analysts expect further price hikes, especially in voice calling rates, over the next few quarters.

Analysts at SBICap Securities concurred with the view that voice calls via OTT apps would increase, but said the shift would not be immediate. “For this behaviour to come naturally or become a habit may take 12-18 months,” said Rajiv Sharma, the head of research at the brokerage.

Analysts added that while the minutes of usage might fall as a result of the tariff hikes, data consumption would rise since OTT calls would use mobile Internet.

“WhatsApp/OTT calls will still invite the new data tariffs, so there will be some positive impact on overall revenue,” said Rajan Mathews, the director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Jio. He, however, does not expect any material increase in OTT traffic.

However, some sector watchers have a counter view, saying that traditional voice calls might rise more than OTT calling since consumers would use data more judiciously after the tariff increase. Also, the issue of seamless connectivity over data calls still persists in many areas.

“Low-tier users might downgrade plans. This means they will have less data for daily consumption. They will try to use cellular for calls to use data for other use cases like entertainment, social and gaming,” research firm TechArc’s cofounder Faisal Kawoosa said.

Introducing voice over WiFi will allow telcos to keep OTT players from eating into their revenue, even as voice calling rates rise, said analysts.

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