Ringo, a VoIP app which lets users make low-cost calls across landlines and mobiles using WiFi or carrier data (2G/3G) 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.
Ringo via its group company VMobi claims to have obtained Access Service license under Unified License regime for the Mumbai circle from the Department of Telecom (DoT), with plans to obtain licenses in more circles. It got National Long Distance Operator (NLDO), and International Long Distance Operator (ILDO) in February 2016. Ringo plans to makes use of the Internet to allow a user to make calls to anywhere in the country over regular Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) lines and cellular networks.
However, telecom providers have made attempts to restrict the launch of such services by refusing to provide VMobi with a fair, non-discriminatory interconnection agreement, the company said in a statement.
“In spite of having been permitted (to launch Internet telephony) since 2008, the Indian consumer has not been able to enjoy the benefits of Internet Telephony because Telecom players like Vodafone, Airtel and Idea have neither launched Internet Telephony, nor permitted other operators to launch the same. By failing to provide us with a non-discriminatory Interconnection agreement, or with the mandatory points of interconnect, these companies are making it incredibly difficult for us to do business, said Bhavin Turakhia, Founder and CEO of Ringo.
‘Telcos made repeated attempts to restrict our services’: Ringo
Over the past six months, the company claims to have been in constant discussion with operators seeking interconnections. However, they have made repeated attempts to restrict the company’s roll out plans by including restrictive clauses in the agreements that VMobi has attempted to sign with them, the company said.
“Some of these players have attempted to justify these clauses by saying that even though our licenses allow us to launch the service, because there is much ambiguity that DoT and TRAI have not clarified, the service is not viable for launch…Neither the licensor nor the regulator have opposed the service or given us the slightest reason to believe otherwise. I don’t understand why telcos are the one’s trying to convince us that we are in violation of our license, when we have all the requisite approvals.” added Turakhia.
Ringo has approached TRAI for assistance: Ringo also claims to have made attempts to contact TRAI to request assistance in obtaining an interconnection point through an Interconnection agreement (with telcos) for both NLDO and Access services. “TRAI has been patient and progressive and we strongly believe that they will do the right thing for the progress of Internet Telephony in India,” the company added.
Ringo’s operations are currently suspended: Ringo had paused its operations in India temporarily in December last year. At that time An ET report said that telecom operators had blocked backend support to the app, and were planning to write to TRAI stating that Ringo violated regulatory 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).
Regulatory tussle in India regarding VoIP
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. COAI added that setting no termination charges for wireline networks would lead to “huge losses to not only the access providers but also to the exchequer”. Subsequently, BSNL’s plans were put on hold.
TRAI consultations: Subsequently, India’s telecom regulator TRAI had issued a consultation in August, seeking comments from stakeholders to determine interconnection charges for VoIP and VoLTE calls. Before this, TRAI had issued a similar consultation in June in which the TRAI looked to regulate VoIP apps like Ringo and Nanu that interconnect with PSTN networks.
The COAI reiterated to these consultation stating that consultation paper issued by TRAI “seems to have been crafted and timed” to facilitate interests of new players in the telecom industry, and seems to disregard “massive investments”.