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DoT allows telcos to make calls over the internet; no clarity for VoIP apps

The telecom department issued a notification on Tuesday saying that Internet Telephony services are “untethered from the underlying access network”. This essentially means that telcos can deploy apps that can call Indian numbers over an internet connection that they don’t have to control. Regulations on interconnect usage charges (IUC) and international calling are still in force, though, so telcos will still have to pay termination charges to telcos of call recipients. This notification implements one of the recommendations that telecom regulator TRAI issued to the DoT in October last year.

This also allows for WiFi calling, where subscribers with newer handsets can make calls over WiFi without any separate VoIP service like WhatsApp calling or Skype. Telcos can also use wireless internet of other carriers to process calls when their own network is unable to reach a caller, the Economic Times reported.

Uncertainty for non-telco apps

While DoT’s notification makes life a little easier for telcos, VoIP apps that want to operate independently remain in limbo. Services like Skype and Viber usually don’t interact with regulated telephone networks, so they don’t have much uncertainty to worry about (mostly). However, apps like Nanu and Ringo worked by buying call minutes in bulk and charging rates that were much cheaper than telcos’ tariffs. In this two year regulatory process, those services have been left behind. In early 2017, Nanu shut down after investors were squeamish about TRAI’s uncertainty. Ringo ground to a halt in 2015, before TRAI’s consultation, when telcos stonewalled its service by refusing to sell any more minutes. If such apps want to operate such services in India, they have additional licensing requirements.

Even if these services got the relief they were looking for, it might as well be too little too late — the telecom landscape has completely changed in India since carriers first started twiddling thumbs about internet calling jeopardizing their revenue (they told investors otherwise though). Every telco is now making losses trying to retain subscribers in the wake of Jio, and tariffs have barrelled downwards, practically nullifying the savings offered by apps like Nanu and Ringo. With WhatsApp calling’s wide availability among smartphone users, the USP of these apps suffers more. Even telco organization COAI, which pushed TRAI to allow Net Neutrality-violating tariffs where VoIP traffic was charged separately, doesn’t care much anymore about what TRAI and DoT will do about internet calling.

ReadThe Lowdown: TRAI’s recommendations for Internet Telephony from telcos, ISPs and VNOs

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