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Calling app Ringo suspends operations in India temporarily; denies violation cited by telcos

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Ringo, a P2P app which lets its users make local and international calls across landlines and mobiles at a low cost without using WiFi or carrier data (2G/3G), has “paused” its operations in India temporarily, Bhavin Turakhia, founder and CEO of the app announced in a post. Turakhia said that it had run into a few hurdles locally, while international calling was operational without any issues.

Telcos block backend support: According to a TOI report, if the service took more than 2-3 days to resume, the company would refund the unutilised credits to the user. An ET report said that telecom operators had blocked backend support to the app, and were planning to write to TRAI stating that the service violated sector rules and did not operate according to license requirements. Rajan Mathews, DG of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said that the TRAI needs to look into masking caller line identification, security violations and stipulations against reselling (talktime).

Turakhia denied this charge by stating that Ringo was completely compliant with the law, and that the service was blocked without providing a notice to its service providers. He added that it would need to seek TRAI’s intervention to get it unblocked.

Ringo works through carrier networks: The domestic calling service was introduced last week at Rs 0.19/minute. The app uses telecom networks of carriers to make calls even to users who do not have the Ringo app installed on their mobile, and uses uniform pricing across platforms. According to the ET report, Ringo buys talktime minutes in bulk from aggregators which are connected to carriers or from carriers (like Tata Communications, British Telecom and Verizon) which sell wholesale minutes.

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How it works: Ringo first calls the caller and then connects him/her with the recipient. It says that on making an international call, it converts that call into a local call to its Ringo number in the caller’s country and thus displaying that number while making the call. According to a Daily Mail article, Ringo connects the call made to a local phone network, assigning it a local number. It then routes the call through the internet to the destination. When the call reaches the destination country, it reconnects to the local network and assigns the call a different local number every time. However, this is not visible to the user making the call or the recipient, since for them it appears as if the call is coming directly from their contact. 

The company had plans to launch premium services in order to make profits. It asks a user to buy credits (somewhat like Skype credits) to make a call instead of using the talktime balance or the internet. Apparently, the credits do not have an expiry date. Riva FZC, the parent company of Ringo (and hiring across functions in the country) was launched last year and its voice calling is operational in 100 countries as of now.

Nikhil adds: All telecom operators use VoIP at the backhaul to route calls. Ringo is essentially mirroring that. On both sides of the connection, it uses traditional telecom network to originate and terminate the call and is merely used in VOIP to transfer the calls. In essence it is doing exactly what telcos do. Reliance Infocomm had taken a similar approach as well. If you needed another indication that international calls are overpriced, this is it. It’s because telcos make a disproportionately high amount of money on both STD and ISD calls, people are beginning to choose WhatsApp calling and will also end up using services like Ringo because they’re cheaper. But is Ringo legal? According to India’s current VOIP policy, entities need a telecom operator license in order to terminate VOIP calls on mobile phone networks. To us it seems that the service doesn’t necessarily comply with India’s existing VOIP policy.

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Previously, In October 2014, the Intelligence Bureau had asked the Department of Telecom (DoT) to block the low-cost international calling app WePhone, which uses WiFi or 3G/4G network, as it allowed caller ID spoofing, making it difficult to identify or locate the actual caller.

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I'm a MediaNama alumna from 2015-16 (remember TinyOwl?) now back to cover e-services like food and grocery delivery, app based transport and policies, platforms and media in India.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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