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(By Diwaskar Chettri & Preethi J)

Better late then never, Geodesic, which had recently said that it was working on improving the user interface of its VoIP service Spokn, has finally launched its VoIP offering. On the timing of the launch, with the government shuffling its feet on permitting unrestricted VoIP calls, Ashhar Farhan, Head Technology, Spokn, explained, “First, Internet is here to stay.  It makes immense economic sense to lay down just one pipe and stream all services through that one pipe. Sooner than later, Radio, TV, Voice and Text will all migrate to the IP cloud.”

Spokn allows users to make voice calls between PC to PC, Phone to Phone, and PC to Phone. It  competes with the likes of  SkypeNet2PhoneVonageImpetusNovanet and Yahoo Voice. The company is based out of Singapore and has inked interconnect agreements with International Long Distance providers across the globe – and Spokn calls are routed through their networks. These ILD operators receive a revenue share of 60-65% from the VoIP provider (the exact amount is calculated according to volumes and total call minutes) and the call is directed to the mobile or landline number as a normal voice call.

Geodesic MD Kiran Kulkarni explained to MediaNama the process of making a VoIP call: “our system first notes your number when the call is placed, and the number you want to connect to, then disconnects the line. The caller then receives a call back which patches her onto a conference call with the person she intended to call.”

The audio conferencing technique for VoIP is also used by Sabeer Bhatia backed SabseBolo which acquired Jaxtr, and Google was using the same for its short-lived (in India) click-to-call feature.

Pricing

For calling any phones in India – including landlines and mobiles – the tariff is $0.02, which approximately amounts to Rs. 0.92 (92 paisa)! Calls to US and UK (landline) are also at $0.02 per minute. More on Spokn’s site

India To India Calls?

And what about calls placed from India to another number in India – a local or an STD call? Geodesic said that they do not terminate calls on to the Indian PSTN lines that originate from India. On being asked how they deal with such calls then, Kulkarni explained “We take it outside and reroute it. And for a call placed from India to any country, the cost doubles to 4 cents for the user.”

The Regulatory Point, Security Concerns

spoknscreenshotIndian government has banned VoIP call termination on public service telephone networks (PSTN or Landlines) and mobiles, even though Indian regulator TRAI had recommended changes be made for allowing VoIP calls to made to PSTN/PLMN or vice-versa within the country.

“VoIP is not illegal in India. All telco license holders are allowed VoIP if they want to use it. The ISPs too are allowed a restricted form of Internet telephony – IP device in India and a PSTN end-point,” said Farhan told us. “There has been some noise about security concerns. We share these concerns and we have, in our response to TRAI’s consultation paper gone on to recommend even tougher regulations for Internet telephony. Internet telephony in India is regulated and licensed, which is good thing. If there are valid security concerns, then, the service providers are obliged to deal with it,” he said, adding that “we will remained engaged in the policy debate while calibrating our India offerings to the evolving regulations.

Currently, Geodesic says there should be no security concerns as both the originating number and the called number are tracked and this information is shared between the ILD operator and the VoIP service provider.

So whose responsibility is it on to keep a track of the source? Kulkarni said Geodesic follows VoIP guidelines set by regulatory bodies in this matter. “The problem was – there were two routes: the VoIP route and the grey route. This latter was used and users could identify them by the absence of the originating number on the caller id. It would appear as an unknown number. But if a VoIP provider signs up with ILD operators and transmits the call through their networks, users can see the originating international number,” explains Kulkarni. If the call is made from a PC to a mobile, the number shown on the caller id will be a 10 digit US number, preceded by the country code.

Voice Messaging

The VoIP service also includes a voice messaging service (VMS) where a subscriber can record and send a 20 second message to any email for free and any phone at fixed cost that includes the 20 second reply. Why 20 seconds? Farhan said: When we started prototyping VMS, we came across a three significant issues. First, long winded VMS tend to become more like podcasts. Second, we cannot provide a fixed cost of delivery. Third, the bandwidth on mobiles can make longer messages really slow. Over months, we tested this extensively and hit the sweet spot of 20 seconds. Geodesic is likely to  leverage its recent tie-up with Sybase 365 , a US-based voice messaging service.

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