Hike, the messenger service backed by Bharti Softbank which is a JV between the two companies, has launched free voice calls on its application for Android phones. This comes three weeks after its acquisition of VoIP startup Zip-Phone.

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Hike on its blog said that the service is still in beta testing and the company will introduce a number of improvements quickly. It says that it will be rolling out the service on to iOS and Windows platforms in the coming months.

Founded by Anuj Jain in the US, Zip Phone was initially released as ‘Awaaz’ a ‘plugin’ for Android phones, that enabled direct phone-to-phone (P2P) calling over WiFi. Consequently the app rebranded itself as Zip Phone, and made it to the Y Combinator list for the Summer batch of 2014.

Hike claims to have 35 million registered users, but that does not give an actual indication of how many people are actively using the application. Hike’s biggest competition in India is Facebook-owned Whatsapp with about 70 million active users. Whatsapp have been saying that they would introduce voice calls in early 2015 but there’s still no word on that yet. A reddit user spotted a new folder in the latest Android update for Whatsapp which might gives us some idea that it may be in the works. Earlier this month, Whatsapp debuted a web app for the Chrome browser only.

Why Hike’s free voice calls is interesting

Earlier Airtel, in a clear violation of Net Neutrality principles, had announced that it is introducing separate VoIP calling data packages and offered a flimsy reasoning for the move. Airtel eventually backed off, following much ridicule, after forcing the TRAI’s hand on announcing a consultation on net neutrality.

Bharti, the promoter group of Airtel, has now two companies under it which offers VoIP services (Airtel has Airtel Talk). It will be interesting to see, if the telecom regulator TRAI fails to uphold Net Neutrality, whether Airtel will offer calls from Hike and Airtel Talk for free, while charging separately for VoIP calls over other VoIP services. Remember that the position paper from the industry lobby COAI points towards the following options that telecom operators have for dealing with Internet services that they feel compete with them: blocking; making rival services less attractive by adjusting their own pricing, or making rival services more expensive; direct partnerships with some rival players; developing their own competing services.

Disclosure: Airtel is currently an advertiser with MediaNama