Responding to Cellular Operators Association of India’s (COAI) comment that Ringo benefits from zero interconnection charges, Bhavin Turakhia, CEO of the company said that a Ringo subscriber pays for data charges to the operator for every call placed via the app and that it (Ringo) pays interconnection charges to operators for calls outgoing to cellular networks. “Any argument made by incumbent operators or COAI that we are trying to exploit ‘zero interconnection charge’ does not hold good,” Turakhia added.
Quoting an example, he added that as per current regulations, “an Idea subscriber making a call using internet telephony is paying Idea the data charges plus the 14 paisa interconnection charges. According to the telecom regulator TRAI, Wireless-to-Wireless attract a termination charge of 14 paisa per minute and Turakhia points out that TRAI defines ‘wireless’ as “full mobility, limited mobility, and fixed wireless access service”.
Therefore, Ringo is required to pay the interconnection charge by law to the interconnecting operator, “which we are willing to pay… So, any argument that we (Ringo) would use any asymmetry in traffic or take advantage of any arbitrage or use zero connection charges is inaccurate,” he added.
On COAI’s comments regarding the need to have own network for providing VoIP
COAI also submitted to TRAI that under current licensing conditions, an operator holding UASL/CMTS/UL needs to have its own network to provide unrestricted Internet telephony; therefore “even a licensee which is not giving such access network to its subscriber (last mile), cannot provide Internet services/internet telephony.” The lobby association went on term such a service as “Over The Top (OTT) Communication” service and not “Internet Telephony”.
Reiterating to this, Turakhia said that COAI’s comment “completely defeats the purpose of free competition”. He pointed that if one applies COAI’s logic, then “if a Vodafone subscriber wishes to use internet telephony, then he must use internet telephony from Vodafone and not from any other service provider.” He added that there are over a 100 countries that allow Internet telephony, and there is no such mandate that a user must buy his/her Internet Telephony minutes from his/her current telecom provider.
Turakhia further points out that Internet Telephony refers to transfer of messages including voice data via the public Internet. “This means that if I (Ringo) want to provide internet telephony to a Vodafone subscriber, then his or her voice should transfer through public internet to our switch,” he added.
“The argument by incumbent telecom service operators that only they can offer Internet Telephony to their subscribers violates all fundamental principles of ‘fair competition’ as well as the license conditions,” said Turakhia.
On COAI’s comment that VoIP it allows providers to bypass international termination charges
When BSNL submitted a proposal to launch fixed mobile telephony (FMT) wherein calls are hosted via the Internet (3G, 4G, WiFi), COAI raised concerns against it, stating that it allowed BSNL to bypass international termination charges. Turakhia has however termed this as incorrect and an inaccurate assumption since TRAI has already specified interconnection charges for such international calls.
“So, if an internet telephony subscriber makes a call from outside the country, that call must be brought into India through an ILD operator and a corresponding 53 paisa charge must be paid to the terminating operator,” he added.
A time-line of battle between Ringo and telcos
–On 27th November 2015: Ringo launches low-cost VoIP service in India, providing calls to both landline or mobile numbers in the country starting at Rs 19 paise/min.
–On December 2nd 2015: Ringo pauses operations in the country. An ET report said that telecom operators 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 COAI said that the TRAI needs to look into masking caller line identification, security violations and stipulations against reselling (talktime).
–On October 14th 2016: Ringo’s operations still remains suspended, but it continues to offer International calls. At the same time, has alleged that top three telcos in the country including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea have been derailing its plans to launch Internet Telephony in the country by not providing Interconnection points. More here.
–On October 20th 2016: COAI in its submission to TRAI’s consultation paper said that VoIP calling apps like Ringo benefits from a regime where interconnection charges are nil or zero, allowing Ringo to offers talk time at much cheaper rates than the rates offered by telecom operators.