With data rising in importance among smartphone users, good old-fashioned voice calls carried over GSM and CDMA networks are losing ground to VOIP carried over 3G/4G data networks, particularly in parts of Asia with more developed mobile infrastructure such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
Using VOIP, chat apps such as LINE, Viber and even WhatsApp are offering “free” call services among their users, with the cost absorbed within data usage charges. For a small fee, users of the above platforms can ring up mobile non-users and even landlines, diminishing the importance of traditional voice networks.
Recently, though, companies have been seeing the potential in Asia, particularly in regions without a well-developed data infrastruture, for low-cost or free voice calls over 2G or even old-school GSM networks. Platforms like Thailand-based Freebie are starting to make inroads into the market, offering free voice and data for users in exchange for listening to advertisements.
Now, Singapore-based Gentay Communications is making a reach for a slice of the pie by launching its own ad-supported voice app nanu. Using 2G networks, nanu aims to provide free calls for its users to any mobile or landline number, with them only needing to listen to a short ad played over the ringback tone as they are waiting for their calls to be picked up.
Martin Nygate, Founder, Gentay Communications, has a lofty goal for nanu to make phone bills obsolete. “nanu’s mission is to provide free calls to everyone, everywhere,” he said. “As more and more users join this mission and use nanu, the advertising revenue will grow and eventually allow us to offer unlimited free calls. What this actually means is the end of phone bills as we know them.”
Right now, nanu is only available for Android phones, with an iOS version coming soon. As part of its launch promotion, nanu will be offering 15 minutes’ worth of free credits for its first million users, which can be used to make calls to landlines in 73 countries all over the world, from India and Thailand to Hungary and Spain.
So what does this mean for Asian mobile users? Will nanu deliver on its promise to end phone bills as we know them? While it’s still hard to say right now, the history of ad-based revenue models in bringing free mobile apps can serve as a useful guide, especially seeing how many free apps there are in Google Play and Apple’s App Store that use in-app ads. A future of free, ad-supported calls and data will certainly bring the emerging regions of Asia closer to the world economy; who knows, the next Mark Zuckerberg could be born in a sleepy village of Sumatra or Quezon!