Update: Truecaller informed Medianama that the VoIP feature is not a Premium only offering and will be available to all its users. For now, the service will be available only on the Android version of the app, with an iOS rollout soon.
Earlier: Truecaller is reportedly testing a new voice service called ‘Truecaller Voice’ that’ll allow users to make VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls, according to Telecom Talk. VoIP calls are made over the internet mostly for free, and services like – WhatsApp, Skype and Google Duo are in common usage. Some screenshots of the app published by Telecom Talk show a dedicated ‘Voice’ button, which on being tapped, starts a VoIP voice call. As of now, the service is under beta testing and is available to a select few users with a premium Truecaller account. However, Truecaller’s support page still says that the app doesn’t have a VoIP service and “simply connects to your [users’] phone’s main calling system”. Medianama couldn’t find the VoIP service on Truecaller’s iOS app, and has written to Truecaller for comments.
The news of Truecaller experimenting with a VoIP service comes at a time when telecom operators in India want additional regulation of OTT services. At the TRAI Open House on OTT (Over The Top) Regulation held in Delhi, a number of former defence personnel, along with telecom operators spoke on the importance of regulating OTT services (VoIP is an OTT service) citing national security and data sovereignty. Reliance Jio’s executives were among the many who batted for further regulation of OTT services.
More than just a caller ID app
The Truecaller Voice service will add to the growing list of features of the Truecaller app. Once known as a caller ID and spam detection app, Truecaller has really diversified with multiple offerings over the last two years that include a UPI enabled payment gateway and an in-app messaging feature.
- Truecaller Pay: Truecaller launched its own UPI payment gateway in collaboration with ICICI Bank in 2017. The feature also saw the integration of Bharat Bill Payments System the following year, which is an integrated service for utility payments — electricity, DTH service, gas, water and mobile postpaid, broadband and landline bills. All bills can be paid at a single location and customers receive an instant confirmation once payment is made.
- Truecaller Chat: Truecaller launched an in-app chat feature to fight spam and misinformation last year. At the time of the the announcement, Truecaller had told MediaNama, “We are well-positioned to solve this problem [of spam and misinformation], given that we have been doing it for years for both calls and SMS.”
Apart from these services that make Truecaller a unique proposition, the app also has a Premium service which when availed comes bundled with voice recording, incognito mode, who viewed my profile, premium badge, and contact requests.
Reliance Jio’s stand on regulating OTT services
Reliance Jio, represented by Sandeep Verma and Mahipal Singh made the following key points at the TRAI open house:
- Substitutability: VoIP and phone calling are functionally substitutable. “One OTT subscriber has over 20 crore subscribers. This can easily substitute the traditional voice services”…”When you look at regulatory oversight, we believe that certain areas like national security and data protection should be applicable uniformly to all communication services”
- Light touch regulation: “We’d like to establish that regulatory oversight can be in two parts: financial and national security. We are proponent of a light touch regulatory regime. OTTs should be kept out of regulatory financial obligation.”
- IT Act is insufficient: Responding to comments about the Internet/OTTs already being covered by the IT Act, Sandeep Verma pointed out that even though Telecom operators are also covered under the IT Act, “we have a separate licensing regime”…, as a prerequisite. It’s not about IT Act or unified license that we’re talking about here. We’re talking about regulations about national security and data protection. There should not be any discrimination on this ground. The IT act says that in case the sovereign wants cooperation for lawful interception the intermediary will extend all facilities and support. This is used by OTTs to not play a supported . Some 1600 information requests to Facebook in first half of 2018, and they only responded to 50% of requests and only some information. There’s no obligation in the IT Act to mandatorily store data. There should not be any discrimination that one is covered under IT Act and others are not.
- Data localisation, interception: Mahipal Singh said that “While we agree that OTTs are working on public internet, that doesn’t mean that national security interest can be waived off. As our security agencies are saying, they’re dependent on content interception. Lawful interception should be applicable to OTTs as well. CDRs and IPDRs should be made available to security agencies. Security agencies need traceability of services. At the time of on-boarding, a subscriber verification should be done as in case of mobile services. This will be a complete package for security agencies. Complete user traffic is going out of the country and coming back. User information is stored outside the country. This is in contradiction to what TSPs have to ensure while providing telecom services. On emergency services, we have to encourage OTTs to provide emergency services. They can also have connectivity to PSTN service providers.”
- Lastly, National security: “National security and data protection laws should be applicable to all providers, irrespective of experience, market they’re serving.”