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VoIP calling apps like Ringo, Nanu, etc which transfer calls to and from landline/mobile networks are now under TRAI’s scrutiny in a consultation paper. The regulator termed these apps as ‘unrestricted’ internet telephony services since they can terminate or originate at PSTN networks used by telcos as well, while calls made purely over the Internet have no restrictions. It also compared VoIP services offered by telecom operators with IP-to-IP based calling networks running in the open Internet, and asked whether they can co-exist, interconnect, and how they would evolve.

TRAI has issued 15 questions to regulate Internet Telephony providers(pdf); stakeholders, consumers, and companies can send their responses to broadbandtrai@gmail.com by 21st July 2016. More on that below.

Telcos lobbied against VoIP

 Interestingly, the consultation was released after just a month, after the COAI, a lobbying association comprising largely of India’s GSM operators, apart from Google and Facebook, wrote two different letters to both TRAI and DoT asking to regulate VoIP services offered by non-telecom companies.

Last month, COAI said in a letter to TRAI that VoIP apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype are violating the existing telecom licensing regime and are merely riding over networks owned by telecom companies. (MediaNama has copy of the letter). Earlier, COAI also requested the DoT in a letter to stop operators from routing telephone calls over the internet, stating that app-based VoIP calls breach telecom license conditions; poses security risks and could generate losses to the national exchequer.

Also read: What mobile operators have said about VoIP in the past

TRAI’s suggestion on VoIP regulations:

As mentioned earlier, The TRAI is looking at regulation of VoIP calls that terminate or originate on regular mobile networks and landline, while looking at thee issues:

  • ISPs can pay to provide unrestricted VoIP services: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) looking to provide unrestricted VoIP services in India could be allowed to do so by migrating their existing licenses to the Unified License regime, the TRAI said. Currently, ISPs are allowed to provide PC-to-PC, and PC-to-landline/cellular VoIP calls within India and abroad. However, calls cannot originate from a landline/cellular network and terminate at a PC or IP network.
  • Transit of VoIP Calls: Current licensing rules  allow telcos to enter into intra-circle roaming arrangements, while specifying interconnect charges for calls originating and terminating from different types of networks including wireless and wire-line. TRAI is seeking comments to determine whether VoIP calls need to be regulated under the same interconnect regulation, as they require access to public-switched networks to terminate or receive calls on landline/cellular devices.
  • Numbering of calls: Normally, Internet telephony calls are offered without numbers, while this might limit landline and mobile phone users from contacting a user relying on VoIP networks. The regulator has proposed a framework for allocation of numbers for Internet calls, while asking whether MNP services can be applied as well.
  •  Emergency Services: Circuit-switched calls made to emergency numbers can be tracked easily to determine the caller’s location, however this can’t be accurately done with Internet Telephony calls, according to TRAI. The regulator is seeking comments to understand how VoIP calls can be tracked for location, and if the subscribers need to be prompted regarding limitation of location tracking on VoIP calls made to Emergency Numbers.
  • Quality of Service: Since QoS parameters are specified for calls on circuit-switched networks, the regulator is considering such parameters to be applied for Internet calls as well. It also suggested that Internet Telephony providers could define their own QoS parameters if needed.

Questions for consultation

Q1: What should be the additional entry fee, Performance Bank Guarantee (PBG) and Financial Bank Guarantee (FBG) for Internet Service providers if they are also allowed to provide unrestricted Internet Telephony?

Q2: Point of Interconnection for Circuit switched Network for various types of calls is well defined. Should same be continued for Internet Telephony calls or is there a need to change Point of Interconnection for Internet Telephony calls?

Q3: Whether accessing of telecom services of the TSP by the subscriber through public Internet (internet access of any other TSP) can be construed as extension of fixed line or mobile services of the TSP? Please provide full justification in support of your answer.

Q4: Whether present ceiling of transit charge needs to be reviewed or it can be continued at the same level? In case it is to be reviewed, please provide cost details and method to calculate transit charge.

Q5: What should be the termination charge when call is terminating into Internet telephony network?

Q6: What should be the termination charge for the calls originated from Internet Telephony Network and terminated into the wireline and wireless Network?

Q7: How to ensure that users of International Internet Telephony calls pay applicable International termination charges?

Q8: Should an Internet telephony subscriber be able to initiate or receive calls from outside the SDCA, or service area, or the
country through the public Internet thus providing limited or full mobility to such subscriber?

Q9: Should the last mile for an Internet telephony subscriber be the public Internet irrespective of where the subscriber is currently located as long as the PSTN leg abides by all the interconnection rules and regulations concerning NLDO and ILDO?

Q10: What should be the framework for allocation of numbering resource for Internet Telephony services?

Q11: Whether Number portability should be allowed for Internet Telephony numbers ? If yes, what should be the framework?

Q12: Is it possible to provide location information to the police station when the subscriber is making Internet Telephony call to
Emergency number? If yes, how?

Q13: In case it is not possible to provide Emergency services through Internet Telephony, whether informing limitation of Internet Telephony calls in advance to the consumers will be sufficient?

Q14: Is there a need to prescribe QoS parameters for Internet telephony at present? If yes, what parameter has to be prescribed? Please give your suggestions with justifications.

Q15: Any other issue related to the matter of Consultation.

Corrigendum: An earlier version of this story referred to ‘TRAI looking to regulate VoIP apps as they compete with telcos’, this is incorrect and has been corrected.