The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recently submitted its recommendations on the “Regulatory Framework for Internet Telephony” to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for its perusal. This follows a consultation process undertaken in June 2016 on voice over internet protocol. As per the recommendations, users can make phone calls to both mobile phones and landlines through the internet, even if internet connectivity is provided by a different provider, as is the case with several over-the-top (OTT) services today.
The recommendations come at a time when internet telephony has become a point of contention between the incumbents and new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL). While RJIL supports unrestricted internet telephony (as has been recommended by TRAI), the incumbents believe that these services should be allowed only within their own networks. In fact, during the consultation process in 2016, some of the stakeholders stated that the existing licence framework requires access providers to use their own network to provide internet telephony services. Further, they believe that access to their telecom services should not be permitted through the public internet (or internet access through any other provider) as it would bypass the STD/ISD calling mechanism and tariffs. In addition, such a provision would result in huge losses to operators providing conventional voice services as there will be a shift of voice traffic from the conventional network to the public internet. Further, if internet telephony becomes popular, the huge capital and operational expenditure incurred in creating and maintaining the last-mile access network will not be compensated adequately. The increasing proliferation of smartphones has already resulted in a switch from SMS and voice traffic to app-based services, which is already taking a toll on operator revenues. To counter this, TRAI has stated that with internet usage growing at an unprecedented rate, the existing providers can generate revenue from data services that are required for internet telephony-based calling as well. It has further stated that voice has already become an application over data services, and that this symbiotic relationship will boost broadband penetration in the country.
Summary of recommendations
- Clarity on definition: As per TRAI’s understanding of existing access service licences, internet telephony is untethered from the underlying access network. Therefore, according to TRAI, an access service provider can offer internet telephony services to its subscriber even if that subscriber is using internet connectivity of other access service providers. TRAI has asked for DoT’s approval on this definition and has recommended that an amendment be made to access service licences in case DoT has a different understanding. Further, TRAI has recommended that unified license virtual network operators (UL VNO) licensees with access service authorisation should be allowed to provide untethered internet telephony in their designated service area.
- Numbering: TRAI has recommended that telecom service providers should be allowed to allocate a common number for both cellular mobile and internet telephony services. It has stated that SDCA (short distance charging area)-linked numbering series may also be used for providing internet telephony by a service provider but mobility should be limited to the consumer premises. In case VNOs with access service authorisation are providing internet telephony services, the parent network service orchestrator should do the numbering resource allocation.
- Security issues: As per TRAI’s recommendations, the licensees should comply with all interception- and monitoring-related requirements as specified in the licence for providing internet telephony. It should be mandatory to include the public IP address used for originating/ terminating internet telephony calls in the call detail records.
- Interconnection and IUC: TRAI is of the view that currently access licensees hand over an internet telephony call to other service providers like any other voice call and, therefore, there is no need to prescribe a separate interconnection framework. The existing point of interconnection framework and interconnection usage charges (IUC) can continue to apply for the provision of internet telephony services as well.
- QoS: According to TRAI, quality of service (QoS) under internet telephony should be left to market forces for the time being. Service providers should submit the details of the internet telephony QoS parameters supported by them so that subscribers can take an informed decision.
Once finalised, the recommendations are likely to result in potentially cheaper and more efficient voice services to users, as well as enhanced broadband proliferation. However, the proposed mandatory interception requirements raise concerns about the privacy and security of these services. Moreover, other entities, particularly OTT players, have been left out of their ambit of these regulations and there is still no clarity on how to look at the interconnection between these app-based service providers and operators.
Akanksha Mahajan Marwah