Orange Spain has launched Blablablapp, a new app that promises international calls at prices as much as 70 percent less than those of rival VoIP services such as WhatsApp and Skype. Unlike with these OTT players, Blablablapp calls go over cellular networks. In an interview with news media, José Antonio Serrano, the head of Orange Spain’s international wholesale business, said that the new service is “a complementary business prompted by the competition posed by OTT operators to traditional telecoms operators in the segment of international calls from Spain.” The free app is available for Android and iOS and offers calls to over 200 countries starting at 1 eurocent (US $0.01) per minute plus 25 eurocents (US $0.28) for the setup. Up to 100 minutes of international calls are included for free, with top-ups of at least €5.00 (US $5.66) good for six months. In addition, users who invite a friend to join Blablablapp will be given €2.00 (US $2.26) credit for future calls. It is not necessary to be an Orange subscriber in order to use Blablablapp.
This move by Orange Spain is quite aggressive in its attempt to undercut the OTT players that are taking so much international calling business away from MNOs in Spain, and, indeed, in many world markets. Orange’s offer is very generous in terms of prices (very low, plus the bonus 100 minutes of free calls) and availability (since it is available to all Spanish callers whether or not they are customers of Orange, the app being downloadable free of charge from Google Play or Apple’s App Store). And by running on cellular networks, it will most likely deliver call quality that is higher than the VoIP connections provided by WhatsApp, Skype and similar entities. The universal availability of the offer may have an effect beyond that of increasing the number of takers in the short run—it may encourage users to join Orange’s network in the future. However, one major question remains in our minds: How can the operator afford to provide so much for so little? The details of how Blablablapp works are not yet clear; advantageous interconnection deals with other carriers inside and outside Spain are almost certainly a part of the process, as would be an efficient use of network capacity. Still, we cannot help wondering whether this gambit to win customers back from the OTTs is sustainable—or even intended to be.