Airtel launches HDV in three African markets

The African arm of Indian operator Bharti Airtel has begun deployment of HD voice (HDV) services, beginning in Rwanda, Kenya and Malawi. The firm said that these deployments are the “first step” in its ambition to roll the technology out across its entire African footprint.

In a release issued Tuesday, Airtel described HDV as “the most significant improvement in voice communications in the past two decades,” with chief marketing officer Andre Beyers adding: “Surveys confirm that customers place a high value on HD Voice.”

But HDV remains a relatively niche technology in commercial terms, with the GSA reporting in late January this year that only 61 mobile networks in 45 countries had deployed the technology.

If there is any reticence among the operator community it may be because, while the improvement to the end user experience is clear to anyone who has made an HDV call, there is no evidence that any value that users perceive will translate into a willingness to pay a premium for the technology.

In a survey of more than 100 operators conducted by Intelligence in January this year, just 26.5 per cent of respondents said they believed that consumers would up their spend for HDV. More positively, 61.4 per cent of respondents felt that HDV will provide a competitive advantage over OTT communication providers and 53.8 per cent said they believe it will be a key service for the enterprise market.

The survey also revealed that a number of operators are planning to introduce HDV in tandem with or after they have brought Voice over LTE services to market, although HDV does not require LTE in order to function. 34.9 per cent of respondents said they plan to launch HDV at the point of VoLTE deployment, while a further 29.3 per cent said they would launch it in the 24 months following.

Handset penetration is a key factor in uptake; as Airtel pointed out both parties on a call need to be on HDV-compatible handsets in order to get the full benefit of the technology. GSA said in February that there were 160 devices in the market (including products for consumers and specialist professionals such as broadcasters) from 16 suppliers.

Airtel said it would make further HDV service launch announcements in Africa during the course of 2013.

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