My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Digicel launches Digicel Zero - How @Digicel_jamaica is testing VoLTE vs @WhatsApp's Free Voice Calling to boost smartphone sales


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Digicel launches Digicel Zero - How @Digicel_jamaica is testing VoLTE vs @WhatsApp's Free Voice Calling to boost smartphone sales

“We're in the business of keeping our customers happy, and with Digicel Zero we are doing just that. With over one million of our customers already accessing Digicel Data Plans, we know how much they love to stream, surf and share on Jamaica's biggest and best 4G network. Our customers told us they wanted cheaper calls and more Data; Digicel Zero is giving them more of what they want, ensuring their credit is used only for Data by making all Digicel-to-Digicel calls completely free”

Digicel CEO David Butler in a Press Release relate to their Digicel Zero Data Plan

Digicel has apparently decided that since they can't beat Telecom Provider LIME, they'll do better that JA$1.99 per Minute that LIME is offering.

Or is it?

On Friday April 24th 2015, Digicel rolled out a new Data Plan called Digicel Zero for smartphones that gives customer the ability to call other Digicel numbers for free as stated in the article  “Digicel Calls Free With Digicel 'Zero'”, published Friday April 24, 2015, The Jamaica Gleaner and “Digicel offers free calls with new promotion”, published Friday, April 24, 2015, The Jamaica Observer.

As a part of their promotional launch, the Jamaica Observer Newspaper was being sold for JA$0.00 as noted in the article “Your Friday Observer is free as Digicel goes zero”, published Friday, April 24, 2015, The Jamaica Observer.

A quick visit to the Digicel Zero Page revealed that the Digicel Zero Data Plan is actually two (2) Data Plans:

1.      Digicel Zero Smartphone Plan
2.      Digicel Zero Blackberry Plan

So what do these Plans entail? And can we trust the New Digicel CEO David Butler?

Turns out it's not all that glitters is truly golden, albeit it is a good offer. This Plan, rather, is a response to competition from a certain VoIP Provider, which I'll of course explain further on.

How Digicel Zero works – Customer cannot use Gimme 5 and Rdio Bundles

Already, they have a video on their Digicel Jamaica YouTube Page as shown below:

According to Digicel Zero FAQ (Frequently asked Question) page, activation requires that you to use the USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) code *147# from your Blackberry or Smartphone.

Then select Digicel Zero from the menu, which in this case is menu Item No. 4. You're brought to yet another menu from which you choose either the Digicel Zero Smartphone Plan or the Digicel Zero Blackberry Plan, depending on your device.

Once you've received as confirmation message, do a battery pull and restart your Smartphone or blackberry. From that point on you have three (3) days of Data with a 350 MB Data Cap. You can make Digicel to Digicel call at a rate of JA$0.50 per minute; it's actually JA$0.00 but there's an added Telephone Call Tax (TCT) and GCT on TCT) per minute of JA$0.50, which is apparently the Telecom Tax on Local Calling.

The JA$50 could be for the Voice Calling and may translate to 100 minutes of free Digicel to Digicel Calling, with the customer having to pay for Voice Calling outside of the plan, as it’s not specified in the Digicel Zero FAQ (Frequently asked Question) page.

Or it could be a case of Data Calling similar to a VoLTE (Voice over LTE) Network only being implemented using a 3G Network, fulfilling the prediction I made as explained in my blog article entitled “Digicel and LIME going VoLTE - Why GSM extinct and Spectrum reused for M2M Services in HD Audio and Video Caribbean VoLTE-Age” 

Effectively, Digicel would be the first Telecom Provider to test out a VoLTE Platform on customers, billing Voice Call as being merely another form of Data.

This is no different from VoIP, except that this is sanctioned by the Telecom Provider, much in the same way Minister of Science Technology Energy and Mining Philip Paulwell has ruled that VoIP Providers must pay termination rates as noted in my blog article entitled “Minister Paulwell says VoIP Providers must Register to Terminate - Why WhatsApp may no longer be Free as IXP by January 2015, MNP by May 2015”.

If you're one of those types that loses a day every now and again and you want to check what day the Data Plan will expire, use the USSD code *136*779# to find out. You can also check your Digicel Zero Plan balance by using the USSD Code *120*9# albeit Digicel will send you a SMS (Short Message Service) or text message once you only have 20 MB or 5 Mb left on your Data Plan.

You can't deactivate the Digicel Zero Plan before it eventually expires. You can only renew, upgrade or be charged US$25 for Data overage, which will be taken from any active Prepaid Call Credit you have on your phone.

Digicel Zero Plan offer Rollover, meaning that if after the three (3) days, if for some strange reason you still have unused Data in your Digicel Zero Smartphone Plan, it can be rolled over to your next Digicel Zero Smartphone Plan when you renew. This, however, does not apply to the Digicel Zero Blackberry Plan.

Interestingly, the Digicel Zero service still allows you to benefit from the following offers:

1.      Loyalty points
2.      Prepaid Free and International Nights
3.      BFFF (Best Friend for Free)

The only thing they don't get to use is Gimme 5 offers and Rdio Bundles, which are for Digicel's Streaming in partnership with Rdio that was launched in January 2015 as stated in the article “Digicel to offer music streaming service on smartphones”, published Thursday, January 22, 2015, The Jamaica Observer   and “Rdio Teams Up With Caribbean Operator Digicel To Expand Into 24 New Countries”, published  Jan 22, 2015 by Jon Russell, Techcrunch.

More on that in another article.

Digicel Zero Data Plans – Zero Benefits for Data Customers with only 100 minutes of talk time

That said, Digicel Zero has zero benefits for customers.

Both Digicel Zero Plans cost only JA$350 and are equivalent to 350 MB of Data for three (3) days on your smartphone or Blackberry. That’s basically JA$100 per day, equivalent to 100 MB per day, if my math is right. That's not much to use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as a mere picture upload can easily eat through that Data cap.

Also, there's no information on how many minutes of calling you get during the three (3) days. 

Conceivably you can’t talk forever, as there must be a cap, which is not mentioned in their Digicel Zero FAQ (Frequently asked Question).

However, if this service is VoLTE, then the free Calling is merely a test for a widescale launch of their 4G Network, Not only is this a clever way to test out VoLTE, but they can prevent other VoIP Provider like WhatsApp from gaining a foothold in Jamaica and in the process, boost their sales of smartphones

Digicel Zero vs WhatsApp – You cannot have VoIP in your Data Plan as LIME will follow

So why is Digicel doing this? For once, it’s not Telecom Provider LIME that's the unseen threat.

Rather, it's WhatsApp, which had officially launched their Voice Calling feature on Thursday April 23rd 2015, allowing WhatsApp users to make WhatsApp to WhatsApp calls for free as noted in my blog article entitled “@WhatApp Voice Calling comes to Version 2.12.1 - How Wi-Fi Calling by Proxy coming to Jamaica with Features to Boot”.

That's exactly one day before Digicel Zero, which had launched on Friday April 24th 2015.

Clearly Digicel  cannot block them and then complain about WhatsApp like they did against VoIP Provider Viber last year as noted in my blog article entitled “LIME and Digicel blocking all VoIP Services - How Telecom Providers can make money from Regularizing Paid VoIP Services”.

Facebook is the owner of WhatsApp, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg purchased for US$19 billion in February 2014 as per my blog article entitled “Facebook acquires WhatsApp for US$19 Billion - CEO Jan Koum Revelry will fade once faced with BBM and Google+, Guardians of the Galaxy of Mobile Social Networks”.  

Facebook Zero, Facebook’s low traffic app for Developing World Countries like Jamaica, along with access to other Social Media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook owned Instagram, is a main reason why Jamaican buy smartphones as noted in my Geezam blog article entitled “Jamaica’s Low Net Penetration - Broadband Internet A Universal Right”.

Social Media websites are the main reason why Jamaican and Americans Millennials (ages 18 to 28) purchase a smartphones and continually buy Data Plans as noted in my Geezam blog article entitled “American Middle-Income Millennial Minorities love Mobile Internet”.

Similarly too, Wikipedia Zero, the free encyclopedia, encourages customers who have a Digicel smartphone to use their smartphones more often by renewing their Data Plans more often as noted in my Geezam blog article entitled  “Wikimedia Foundation partners with Digicel for Wikipedia Zero”.

So since customers have these and other free apps as a reason to access Mobile Internet, Digicel reasons, why rock the boat?

Digicel Zero to boost smartphone sales – 25% of Revenue from Data realistically achievable

Digicel realizes that they can’t fight Social Media or in this case a popular VoIP Platform owned by Facebook. So rather than block WhatsApp or complain, they've launched their own competing Service so as to encourage persons to buy more Data Bundles.  

I’ve come to this conclusion as if you read the Digicel Zero FAQ (Frequently asked Question) page, it only allows you access to certain Social Media platforms.  It doesn’t however, allows you to use VoIP Apps such as Viber and WhatsApp, as it’s not explicitly mentioned in the Digicel Zero FAQ (Frequently asked Question) page despite the graphic in the Digicel Zero Page showing a WhatsApp Logo.

Digicel is effectively forcing you to make a choice between buying a regular Data Plan as detailed in my blog article entitled “Digicel's JA$70 Data Plans vs LIME's JA$50 Data Plans - How to choose 3-Day and 30-Day Data Plans in Jamaica” and using WhatsApp OR taking the Digicel Zero and use only Social Media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Sounds a lot like their  six (6) separate packages that introduced their  JA$2.49 per minute Calling as per the MTR (Mobile Termination Rate) handed down by the OUR back in June 2013 as explained in my blog article entitled “Digicel responds to LIME and introduces Six Plans with lowest rate of JA$2.49 on Friday June 14 2013 - Digicel’s new Six Plan Rates wants Your Body, Christina Aguilera Style” and “Digicel’s New Rates make Credit Last longer despite no Postpaid Options announced”.

In the process, Digicel will sell more DL800 and DL900 smartphones as noted in my blog article entitled “JA$6,950 DL750 and JA$8,250 DL800 on Sale at Digicel – Alcatel One Touch Pop C1 as ZTE Force Awakens and Alcatel’s Empire Strikes Back”.

This along with their soon-to-be completed Fiber Optic Network will allow them to achieve their aim of 25% of Revenue from Data Services  as stated in my blog article entitled “Digicel's First Phase of Underground Fiber Optic Network completed - How Digicel's Tier III Data Center, FTTH, VoIP and Streaming possible in Year of the Sheep 2015

Telecom Provider LIME may soon be prompted to use VoLTE in a similar tactic to dissuade its Data Customer from using WhatsApp’s Voice Calling. That is, once they begin to notice customers spending less money on Data Plans, Local and International Landline and Mobile Calls and instead begin using free Wi-Fi more often to make WhatsApp to WhatsApp Voice Calls.

Here's the link:

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