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LINE extends its voice calling service to India; Unified License?

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IPO-bound mobile messaging and calling app LINE has extended its premium calling service LINE Call to India. This service allows users make low-cost calls directly to mobile phones and landlines in India and worldwide. This was introduced by LINE on its Android app last month (we had missed it then).

Users can either purchase call credits or monthly packs through the LINE web store or purchase a call credit pack using in-app purchase on LINE app. Android users can alternatively make use of LINE coins to make calls instead of purchasing call credits. LINE coins is the company’s application promotion service on Android wherein it provides virtual currency for installing apps recommended by LINE.

Following this, users can tap on the ‘More’ tab on the application and then tap on Premium call that opens up a keypad allowing users to call their acquaintances by typing in the phone number or browsing through your phone contacts.

The company claims that its rates are lower than Viber and Skype. When we checked, we noticed that its rates are lower than Skype and slightly lower than Viber’s Viber Out service for calls within the country. However, it is costlier than Viber for calls to the United States. LINE seems to charge Rs 1.22 per minute for both these regions while Viber charges Rs 1.34 for calls within India and Rs 1.16 for calls to the United States. It’s possible that the company is comparing its monthly plan rates which offers a per-minute rate of Rs 0.61 for landlines. 

That being said, its worth noting that HelloIP, a service launched by Nimbuzz earlier this year in association with Spectranet, offers much lower rates for calls to the United States, since it charges 1 paisa per second (Rs 0.60 per minute).

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Unified License?

As per Indian laws, PC to PC, or IP to IP telephony are allowed but calls originating from within India cannot be terminated on mobiles or landlines without an unified license. This was why Nimbuzz had to tie-up with Spectranet to offer its VoIP service instead of launching it themselves. It’s not clear whether LINE has partnered with any company to launch this service in India. We’ve written to LINE for clarification and will update once we get a response.

Interestingly, when Viber founder & CEO Talmon Marco was asked whether they have an unified license to offer this VoIP service, he had mentioned that they are “not an India-based company. So….”

Nikhil adds: Just as the RBI stepped in to prevent international routing of payments when both buyers and sellers are in India, in order to bypass the 2 factor authentication rule for payments, maybe the Department of Telecom will also step in to look into the practice of calls originating on IP in India, being routed internationally, and then being terminated on landline or mobile networks within India. Geodesic, now being wound up, used to do this. More on that here.

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