Around 40 Internet service providers in the country, led by firms such as Sify Ltd, Net4India Ltd, Ortel Communications Ltd and CJ Online Ltd, are awaiting government approval to start offering voice calls from their networks to fixed and wireless phone networks.
In May, India’s telecom regulator recommended allowing ISP networks to interconnect with one another to offer Internet telephone calls but has not changed rules barring such calls to so-called PSTN, short for public switched telephone network (fixed and existing second generation wireless networks operated by companies such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd or Bharti Airtel Ltd.)
India has some 30 million Internet users, Juxt Consult Pvt. Ltd, a Delhi-based Internet research firm said in July. Other estimates put the figure at as much as 47 million. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or Trai, estimates the country has some nine million broadband subscribers.
Bhubaneswar-based Ortel Communications aims to offer voice telephony in Orissa on its statewide broadband network. Ortel, which connects almost two million homes in Orissa through optic fibre cables, plans to invest around Rs80-90 crore this year, as it readies to offer basic telephony services, said Jagi Mangat Panda, the company’s promoter and director. Ortel’s primary offering is cable television services on the network.
“A beginning has already been made by allowing ISPs to connect their networks,” said Rajesh Chharia, president of trade body Internet Service Providers Association of India, but that is not enough, he added. Chharia recently met officials at Trai and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to push for permission for interconnecting ISPs with public phone networks.
ISPs offer a viable alternative media for phone calls was Chharia’s pitch.
Under the current rules, only ISPs that are part of telecom companies are allowed to connect voice calls made from PCs or Internet phones to fixed phones. Such ISPs control nearly 75% of the Internet-access market, but have not started or publicized such PC-to-phone calling.
DoT has received nearly two dozen applications from companies to start wireless telecom services but there is not enough spectrum for all of them. “We have requested DoT and Trai to issue different licence to operators like us, who do not wish to use the spectrum,” said Ortel’s Panda.
In August, Trai suggested a new licence for businesses such as ISPs, who do not need spectrum, to be able to offer telephony services on their networks.
“We have not envisaged a situation with WiMax, hybrid optic fibre cable, WiFi and many other solutions that can now be harnessed for offering cheaper telecom services,” Trai said then in its recommendations to DoT. “The controversy has been further aggravated because of the spectrum, which is being perceived as inadequate by existing licensees.”
Public phone networks will want to connect with ISP networks as customers usingInternet telephony increase in the future, one industry representative predicted. “Once the PSTN guys feel market pressure, there will be talk of interconnection,” saidNaresh Ajwani, president, consumer infrastructure and operations of Sify