By Jithendra Antonio
‘Hello, Uncle Sam is my voice clear than Skype,’ Mohan rings his uncle’s mobile in the United States via Free Google calls. Google calls is a recent service which was launched by global search engine giant which has created fears among local and many international telecom companies on revenue losses. On the contrary, many analysts are of the view that it is time for telcos to promote broadband and many other bundled services apart from their traditional revenue generating voice services.
“Earlier to reach him was a little bit costly to me as I either logged on via Skype when he was also on Skype, which was free except my broadband cost, but now Google’s free calls to any number in the USA and Canada has given me more easy access to call my all friends than to chat with them on Facebook or Skype or any other Internet related chat service provider,” says Mohan.
For teens of the young generation like Mohan, Google free calls and services like Skype is a cost effective way to reach their friends and family abroad easily unlike local fixed line and mobile service providers who charge Rs.7 per minute and further 33% tax along with interconnection charge for an international call to the USA or perhaps it even cost more to reach some countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Critics in local telecom industry and many analysts have pointed out that services like Skype and Google free calls has brought down telecom service providers voice revenue.
“I find services like Google free calls to the US and Canada and Skype are very reliable as it bring down my enormous mobile telephone and fixed line bills almost to less than Rs.20,000,” says Samantha Wijesuriya who is an exporter. “Now I entirely plug in to Google calls to call my US and Canadian customers and Skype to call my other customers in Europe and Asia. Earlier, I almost paid about Rs.120,000 per month to my mobile service provider as I take many IDD calls, apart I was charged extra 10% withholding tax upon reaching more than Rs.50,000 in my phone bill in addition to Nation Building Levy and VAT,” added Wijesuriya highlighting that telco companies should try to promote their broadband services rather than being sticking to traditional voice revenue.
As years passed by with the opening up of open economy, many mobile operators stepped in, but the mobile was still a luxury item till mid-1990’s due to higher tariffs. Sooner the world was heading with the new advances of Information Communication Technology with enhanced functions of handheld devices; Sri Lanka, during the last two years, was entertaining the mobile and fixed line user with the minimum telcom tariffs in South Asia.
Sri Lanka, in fact, has telco penetration nearly 50% of its population which could open up many value added service opportunities to reach the end user to generate indirect revenue for telco companies. However, more recently in favour of a few large mobile service providers who were losing revenue due to excess costs on expansion, a new tariff plan came in to effect with minimum floor prices.
Recently I saw a media report that some old man had written about how the country is losing voice revenue due to Google free calls to the USA and Canada. “I must say, at 80 years being a retired attorney-at-law I am still happy to see my sons and their kids in Canada on video on Skype and now even with Google calls I can ring them up in early morning on Internet everyday. The world is changing so telecom companies should come up with new innovative services to earn extra revenues. In modern society, the things that came free only later became lucrative billion dollar earning businesses generating revenue through value added services. Look at facebook, today many companies are eyeing to buy it which is a free social network site and now it is even news for many newspapers when some major company in Sri Lanka opens up a facebook fanpage,” said Hemasiri Fernando pointing out his views.
Explaining his views Prof. Rohan Samarajeeewa said that the IP telephony technology used by Google calls and Skype, in turn, benefits the telecom companies in the country. “They have voice which is the cash cow but the world has been changing so they have to change and turn their other services into cash generating ones. What are the incentives these telco companies had granted to Sri Lankan consumer? There’s no point in blocking services like Skype or Google. It has not been a clear proposition. They must not think of a fixed part of the wallet and should rather make it an opportunity,” he noted.
Prof. Samarajeewa said that it is ideal to telecom companies to come up with bundled packages to market broadband services with devices such as dongles and laptops.
“Right now people don’t have fancy handsets in many parts of the country and perhaps there’s no terminal to get connected to Internet at house,” said Prof.Samarajeewa stressing that at a time country’s top telco operator once used to arrest people who had even CISCO servers trying to maintain monopoly in telco services. “We don’t have a monopoly, this is utter madness we have to go ahead with new developments in technology,” he said.