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UAE telecom operator du is set to launch high-definition video calling services on its 4G LTE and 5G networks, not app dependent, by end of the year.

The video calling service over 4G LTE network is known as ViLTE and over 5G is known as video over new radio.

“We have successfully tested the feature on our networks and working towards obtaining all necessary approvals, internally and from TRA, to start offering the service to the customers,” Saleem Al Blooshi, Chief Technology Officer at EITC, the parent company of du, said in an exclusive to TechRadar Middle East.

He said that many applications already offer ViLTE now but the difference with operators’ ViLTE is the interoperability.

“You will use the application in the phone rather than a third-party downloadable app to make video calls. It is as simple as making a voice call on a phone. We hope to launch the service this year and the devices that support voice over LTE (VoLTE) now is expected to support ViLTE also.

What are VoLTE and ViLTE

With VoLTE, the advantages are the high-definition voice, better clarity, faster connection time and able to browse the internet when calling and it is more of a back-end cellular technology for mobile network operators.

ViLTE is an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) based cellular data technology and it is considered as an extension of VoLTE technology, which means that the feature is network-dependent.

VoLTE service is only offered for VoLTE certified devices by the TRA and the same applies to ViLTE.

According to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association, 257 smartphones from 36 vendors globally support ViLTE capabilities, expect Apple’s iPhones, as of February 2019.

TRA has banned Microsoft’s Skype, Apple’s FaceTime, Google Duo, WhatsApp voice and video calling features in the UAE as VoIP is a regulated service and interested players need to get a UAE licence or authorisation and follow the framework.

However, telecom operators have tied up with over-the-top (OTT) apps such as Botim, C’Me and YzerChat to provide voice and video calls to subscribers for a monthly fee of AED 50 for mobile users and AED 100 per month for WiFi users at home.

“The OTT apps such as BoTim, YzerChat and C’me have different marketing techniques but our contract will be with the customers with a monthly plan,” Al Blooshi said.

Two different signalling technologies

Even though telecom operators offer third-party apps such as Botim and C'me to make voice and video calls in the UAE, Krishna Chinta, research analyst at International Data Corporation (IDC), said that ViLTE and VoIP apps work on two different signalling technologies and they follow different business models.

Chinta said that ViLTE offers a superior HD voice and video quality and is billed based on the usage, which may vary from one service plan to the other while paid VoIP service, on the other hand, comes with certain usage limit per month.

However, it is evolving to be a cost-effective technology for mobile network operators, and it eliminates the costs and efforts involved in maintaining a separate circuit-switched network, as it used to be the case in the 2G era.

No impact on telco’s voice revenue

Sukhdev Singh, executive director at research and consulting services provider Kantar, said the quality and interface of the OTT apps are not that good, so ViLTE will be successful in a market like UAE and people will be ready to pay for it.

To make OTT voice and video calls, he said the other end of the line also needs to have the same OTT app.

“I am not sure whether a customer will be able to make international video calls and most probably, the service is expected to be made available only in the UAE. We need to wait and watch,” he said.

Since it is not app dependent, he said that video calling services have more potential and uptake.

“If a customer can make international video calls, then the uptake will be even higher but it is not going to impact telecom operators’ voice revenue. Video is going to be more popular among friends and families and not for business purposes and, at the same time, it is not going to cannibalise voice but it will all depend on the video quality,” he said.

Chinta said that ViLTE is capable of transporting voice and video traffic as data packets over the LTE cellular network. It makes the traditional circuit-switched voice network almost redundant.

Monetisable revenue opportunity

From a telecom operator’s point of view, Chinta said that ViLTE, similar to that of VoLTE and regular mobile voice service, is capable of emerging as a core mobile communication service offering directly monetisable revenue opportunity.

“In comparison, paid VoIP app service is considered as an OTT service, which generates an incremental stream of revenues similar to that of international VoIP calling cards for the telecom operators. Therefore, ViLTE is not expected to pose a direct competition to the paid VoIP service in the short- to mid-term,” he said.

Sanmeet Kochhar, general manager for the Middle East at HMD Global, said that mobile video consumption rates in the Middle East and Africa region are growing quite rapidly, with some reports indicating a 90% year-on-year growth.

Video traffic growth in mobile networks

According to Ericsson's Mobility Report, video traffic in mobile networks globally is forecast to grow by around 34% annually up to 2024 to account for nearly three-quarters of mobile data traffic, from approximately 60% in 2018 due to the increase of embedded video in many online applications, growth of video-on-demand (VoD) streaming services in terms of both subscribers and viewing time per subscriber, and the perpetual evolution towards higher screen resolutions on smart devices.

All Nokia smartphones come with ViLTE over 4G networks, Kochhar said.

“It is thrilling to see how the region is paving the way for a more connected future,” he added.

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