Incumbent telecom operators blocking Internet calls: VMobi Solutions

Bhavin Turakhia’s VMobi Solutions alleged that incumbent telcos are blocking adoption of Internet telephony by withholding interconnection points


VMobi Solutions founder Bhavin Turakhia. Photo: Hindustan Times
VMobi Solutions founder Bhavin Turakhia. Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: VMobi Solutions Pvt. Ltd, the telecom company founded by serial entrepreneur Bhavin Turakhia, alleged that incumbent telecom operators are blocking the adoption of Internet telephony in India by failing to release interconnection points.

This, Turakhia said, is despite the government putting in place a regulatory framework since 2008.

“The incumbent operators are...doing their best to potentially kill it in India by not letting anybody provide it to a subscriber except themselves,” said Turakhia, co-founder of domain name registrar Directi.

VMobi has a telecom access licence for Mumbai in addition to international long distance, national long distance and Internet service provider licences. The company is in the process of getting licences for the remaining 21 circles. India is divided into 22 telecom licence areas or circles.

“VMobi is right to say that Internet telephony is not barred in India,” said Mahesh Uppal, founder of telecom consulting firm ComFirst. “But the real issue in Internet telephony in India is termination of calls on the telecom operator’s network. The IUC (interconnection usage charge) regime does not require operators to allow termination. Internet telephony is a useful technology and must be supported by telecom companies.”

Internet telephony is allowed since 2008 by telcos, an official at the telecom department said, and Internet calls can be terminated at mobiles and landlines. The official declined to be named.

“The main argument given by incumbents is that if Internet telephony is allowed, it should be allowed only by them and on their networks. The second argument is that in Internet telephony, no specific numbering plan resources have been allocated, and as of now, number series have been provided only for mobile and fixed line telephony. Now, this argument is incorrect because nowhere in the world numbering plans vary due to technology of telephony,” Turakhia said.

Telecom operators have argued that there is a lack of clarity on IUCs applicable to Internet telephony calls and therefore, telcos cannot facilitate it.

“To this, my counter is, in 2008, the telecom regulator had itself put out a statement that existing IUC regime without changes can be applied to Internet telephony,” Turakhia said.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or Trai, had issued a consultation paper on 22 June seeking suggestions on what should be the regulatory framework around Internet telephony to be provided by Internet service providers.

In a 2015 paper, Trai mentioned IUC covers all local, national and international calls, and calls made through Internet telephony cannot fall outside of this. Another argument offered by incumbents is there is no explicit requirement by operators to provide interconnection points to another operator for Internet telephony.

The Trai paper defines Internet telephony as transmission of voice over public Internet and a subset of voice over IP (VoIP) i.e. voice services offered on other than managed internet networks.

“The telcos have managed to delay Internet telephony since 2008 and want to prevent it since it would hurt their revenues,” Turakhia said.

Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) in its submission to Trai on the consultation paper argued that a licencee which does not provide last mile access on its network to subscribers cannot provide Internet telephony.

“Any such attempt to provide connectivity through other service provider’s Internet connection is equal to any OTT (over the top; eg WhatsApp, Skype) Communication Service and not internet telephony service as envisaged under the current licensing regime,” COAI said in the submission.

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