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COAI tells DoT: Routing calls over internet is illegal and creates losses


The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a lobbying association comprising largely of India’s GSM operators, apart from Google and Facebook, has requested the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) to stop operators from routing telephone calls over the internet, reports Economic Times. In a letter to DoT, the COAI said that routing of internet telephony calls is a breach of telecom license conditions; poses security risks and could generate losses to the national exchequer. We’ve requested Vikram Tiwathia of the COAI for a copy of the letter, and will update in case they share it.

Internet telephony or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows users to leverage the internet as a transmission medium for calls, rather than the traditional fixed-line telephony or circuit-switched telephony. This issue largely heated up after Whatsapp launched VoIP. In December 2015, the COAI had written to the TRAI against Whatsapp.

Also read:
Lowdown on VoIP regulations at the IAMAI-Microsoft roundtable
What mobile operators have said about VoIP in the past

This letter was in response to BSNL’s calling app

The letter from COAI comes after state run telco BSNL unveiled plans of launching an app, which would allow customers traveling abroad to connect their landlines via mobile phones and make calls through the mobile phone without attracting ISD charges. This is possible by virtually converting landlines into mobile phones through VoIP, under the existing fixed-line telephony method.

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Following is a snippet from a copy of the letter that was given to MediaNama by the COAI; it argues that modifying local calls and tampering with Caller Line Identification (CLI) and changing the Call Detail Records could pose security threats.

“Conversion of IP Address to a landline Number or a Mobile Number of the caller is clearly a case of tampering of Caller Line Identification (CLI) and changing the Call Detail Records (CDs). Therefore in such cases there will be no sanctity of the CLI as it will be modified at various points in a call and from various formats like IP address to a Landline Number which is not permitted and hence this poses grave security risks. The identification of the actual caller would not be possible conclusively from CDRs or the CLI displayed at the called party end. Internet Telephony being different from real time Mobile/Fixed calls need to be identified separately and cannot be shown as Fixed or Mobile calls.,” said the COAI in its letter to the DoT.

COAI also added that routing of internet telephony calls would create losses to the national exchequer as the current Interconnect Usage Charge for domestic calls is 14 paise/minute; this is higher than the international call termination rate of 53 paise/minute.

Separate numbering for VoIP

Additionally, the COAI also has called for a separate numbering series for calls being routed over the internet, as these calls are different from landline and mobile services. It also suggested a consultative process for creating separate numbering for VoIP calls, “since it is yet to be defined under National Numbering Plan (NNP).

The lobby association further claims that BSNL’s app based calling service is a violation of licensing terms and breaches existing agreements/directions in the ‘Interconnect Agreement’ amendment.

Breach of Existing Interconnect Agreement: Further, it may be noted that the existing interconnection agreements of our members (COAI members) with BSNL or even with private operators do not provide for interconnection for internet Telephony Calls.Also,the interconnection agreements consider tampering of CLI as a breach of interconnection agreement.

Violation of Licensing conditions & fundamentals of routing: The use of a mobile/landline number series is not permitted for “internet Telephony”. Routing of such calls is not as per the license or any instructions of DOT as it aims to convert the international roaming calls into local calls. Even assuming that such calls are internet Telephony call, it cannot use the Landline or Mobile Number in place of IP  Address.

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Amendment for VoIP interconnection

Last month, the DoT made a new amendment to the Unified Access Service (UAS) license agreement (pdf), paving way for VoIP and VoLTE (IP based connections) interconnection in India. The new amendment is aimed at facilitating VoIP & VoLTE users to make and receive calls to and from non-IP based networks and vice-versa.

Services leveraging internet to facilitate telephone calls

Ringo P2P calling app: In December 2015,  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), had “paused” its operations in India temporarily.

A Daily Mail article, said that Ringo connects a call made to an international phone network by 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.

Spokn VoIP service app: In May 2012, Geodesic‘s VoIP service, Spokn, launched an app that enabled users to make outgoing calls on WiFi, 3G and EDGE networks. At that time, the Symbian client deployed “Obfuscated-VoIP” to extend its services in Middle East countries, where VoIP is restricted.

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The company said, on its blog, that it has deployed Obfuscated VoIP, where-in its dialers can bypass IP and Port level blocking by the ISPs, automatically locating and communicating with Spokn servers, as it makes VoIP traffic look different so that the rules that the ISPs have implemented on their firewalls don’t catch its VoIP data.

Image Credit: King Huang under CC BY 2.0

Note: This story has been re-written and updated with references to a copy of COAI’s letter, for better clarity

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