Reliance Jio on Thursday announced that it would once again make off-net domestic voice calls free on its network starting January 1, 2021. The operator will restart its earlier practice over a year after it started charging its subscribers 6 paise a minute to make voice calls to other mobile networks. The fresh decision came as a result of the ‘Bill and Keep’ regime that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is implementing in the country from January 1 that will end interconnect usage charges (IUC) for all domestic voice calls.

With the update, subscribers on Jio will be able to make free voice calls to any mobile network in the country — just like other telcos. This is likely to make the competition tougher for other telcos including Airtel and Vi (formerly Vodafone Idea) as Jio will be able to offer more competitive recharge plans. Other operators will also no longer get any charges from Jio for terminating voice calls from its network.

In September 2019, the TRAI extended the timeline for implementing the Bill and Keep regime beyond January 1, 2020. That extension resulted in the arrival of the six-paise outgoing call charge on Jio for other mobile networks in October last year.

Jio at that time claimed that due to bearing IUC, which operators needed to pay for enabling off-net voice calls on their networks, it had paid nearly Rs. 13,500 crores to other operators in the last three years. It had also mentioned after the interconnect charges came into place in 2017, other telcos continued to charge “exorbitant tariffs” and increased their tariffs for voice calls to around Rs. 1.50 per minute.

However, unlike Jio, other operators favoured IUC as it emerged as one of their main sources of income. A large number of Jio users also criticised the telco’s move to start charging for voice calls. It tried to put some criticism to rest by launching dedicated IUC vouchers following the announcement of off-net voice call charges on its network last year.

It is important to point out that while Jio started charging users for making voice calls to other networks, it continued to offer free Jio-to-Jio voice calls — thanks to VoIP support on its network.

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