[App Fridays] Jio wants to cash in on VoLTE and RCS revolution with JioVoice. Can it?Harshith Mallya
Why would Jio develop an app with some features that could potentially be irrelevant in a few years? What is the bigger story and end game behind JioVoice?
While Reliance Jio launched its 4G LTE network in late 2016, it also released a suite of 12 mobile apps ranging from audio and video content, sercurtiy to communication apps. Out of all the apps in its arsenel, one particular app stands out for a few reasons- JioVoice.
Let us explore JioVoice app from an end consumer's point of view, and try to understand the possible bigger picture behind it in this week’s App Friday.
What is JioVoice?
Jio4GVoice from Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd is essentially a communication app that has two main features. It lets users-
- Make HD calls through VoLTE and non-VoLTE-enabled smartphones.
- Leverage Rich Communication Services (RCS) and features such as chat, group chat, file sharing, location share, doodles and stickers.
When Jio was launched earlier in 2016, the company had noted that voice calls over their 4G spectrum would be free for life and users would have to pay only for data charges. But a large portion of India’s population was and is still on 2G and 3G-enabled smartphones. So how would they be able to tap into Jio’s 4G spectrum for voice calls? The answer lay in one of the 12 apps that Jio had launched- JioVoice (earlier JioJoin).
Installing this app let users make high definition voice calls. JioVoice’s description on the Google Play Store states,
Jio4GVoice brings true 4G/VoLTE high-definition voice and video calling on your existing 2G, 3G, 4G smartphone(s). You can use Jio4GVoice with a Jio SIM either in the phone or in a JioFi connected to your phone.
Related read from March 2017: Is Reliance Jio and its extended universe of apps worth the Prime membership?
Voice calling over VoLTE
When I started using the Jio network in November 2016, my smartphone (a One Plus Two) didn’t support VoLTE connectivity. So I had to rely on JioVoice to make phone calls. The platform took a few seconds more to connect, compared to a regular non-VoLTE phone call, but the voice quality was good, if not better, and the network was relatively stable for me in Bengaluru.
Then after a month or so, One Plus pushed out a software update that gave my phone VoLTE connectivity. I now had the ability to bypass the JioVoice app and make calls over the Jio network with more ease.
Another interesting feature in JioVoice includes the ability to switch between plain and rich calls. While using JioVoice, if users are in a hurry and wish to make a plain call instead of a ‘rich call’, they can just hold the phone to their ear and let the call go through.
So while JioVoice is relevant in the current market, could mass scale adoption of 4G VoLTE enabled phones in the future make it irrelevant? According to the people I spoke to, this will not happen as Jio believes that mass-scale 4G adoption will take time, and also because of its secondary focus on RCS.
The potential of RCS
While I had used JioVoice for over a month, I hadn’t fully explored all the features in its RCS arsenal. This was because like many others I was unaware of the full extent of its features, and also network effects hadn’t kicked in to encourage me to explore these features.
I later realised that the app allows customised messaging options and lets users share images, location, doodles on the receiver's screen to give more context to a phone call. Users can also mark a call as ‘Urgent' to convey urgency to the receiver. During a call users can also use the in-app screen to share thoughts or sketch simple diagrams to emphasise their points.
Google too has been exploring RCS, and in February 2016 announced signing on GSMA and mobile service providers (MSPs) around the world to develop an RCS that operates across all Android devices over different networks. Google has a host of messaging apps like- Hangouts, Allo, Duo and Joyn (a leading RCS app they acquired).
In a piece titled ‘Can Google kill WhatsApp’ Sun Ung Lee, a telecommunication and electronics industry veteran, explored how Google could potentially create a ‘super RCS’ app that could come pre-installed with smartphones and be guaranteed to send MMS and media messages to any Android users around the world. This seems to be the path Reliance Jio too is taking with JioVoice. JioVoice’s description on Google Play store also contains some hints about their intended end-game strategy of being the default communications app-
With Jio4GVoice you can send and receive text messages from your Jio number to any mobile number. You can do group chats & share images, videos, location and all types of files like .zip, .pdf to your Jio4GVoice contacts. Set Jio4GVoice as your default messaging app to manage all your SMS and chat threads in one Inbox.
So while the voice calling aspects of JioVoice may lose its appeal in the long run, when the mass population has 4G VoLTE-enabled phones, there is reason to believe that Jio sees great potential in the RCS space to make communication across devices and carriers more seamless. But can they succeed?