India has decided to ask Internet Telephony companies, including Skype, to set up servers in the country, and also ask ISPs and telcos to segregate IP addresses on a state-wise basis reports the Economic Times, citing minutes of an April...
India has decided to ask Internet Telephony companies, including Skype, to set up servers in the country, and also ask ISPs and telcos to segregate IP addresses on a state-wise basis reports the Economic Times, citing minutes of an April 23rd Home Ministry meeting. Skype appears to be the key concern here, and the lack of regulation and as well as iffy jurisdiction scenario poses concerns for companies.
We’ve been tracking the Internet Telephony space since (our) inception, so here’s something of a complete overview, and opinion on its status. If we’ve missed something out, or if there are errors, please do let us know:
- Security concerns are real: Internet Telephony was used in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and the Indian police explained last year how easy it was to trace, and how easy it was to set up a service, across different jurisdictions. Do read How VoIP Was Used For The Mumbai Terrorist Attacks: Aditya Mishra, IPS. This explains why India is so keep to intercept Internet Telephony.
- Internet Telephony not allowed to terminate on Telecom networks: At present, Internet Telephony calls originating out of India are not allowed to terminate on Public Service Telephone Networks (PSTN) in India: i.e. using an Indian mobile number, you cannot make an Internet Telephony call to another mobile phone number. Do read the applicable policy on Internet Telephony in India here.
- A workaround for Internet Telephony traffic is the routing of calls internationally, and then terminating them within India. More details in our story on how Spokn, a company backed by Geodesic, was dealing with India’s Internet telephony regime.
- The call for blocking Internet telephony isn’t new. Back in 2006, comments from stakeholders (and not the government) to TRAI’s consultation on ISP licenses and Internet Telephony called for the blocking of Internet Telephony: “since Skype / Google type service providers are not licensed to provide such services in India without having facility for lawful interception, therefore, the vigilance and monitoring efforts are required to be beefed up, as these applications not only bypass the laws and regulations of the land, but also pose a threat to security. As such these services should be blocked.” The ISPs saw Internet Telephony as a means of getting more revenues, making a tiny little dent in the telecom business. The telecom operators obviously lobbied for a prevention of change in policy.
The TRAI had recommended unrestricted Internet Telephony in India in 2008. The Government did not allow it, and the policy remained unchanged, as we found out via RTI.
- Carrot and stick: the approach is changing. The Indian government has realized that they can’t block Internet Telephony (especially IP to IP communication over data networks), so they’re offering the carrot of a license (via Unified Licenses), with the stick of interception. Cue Nimbuzz, which launched its messenger with Tata Indicom in 2009 with voice calls disabled; it is now eyeing a licensed Internet Telephony service via Unified Licenses.
Conclusion: Telecom Operators want protection, Government wants revenue
Telecom operators are now riding the tiger that is Mobile Internet. They had no choice but to get on board, after paying for 3G and 4G spectrum, and the pace of growth of Mobile Internet in India is both a boon and a bane: data revenues are increasing rapidly, as is data ARPU (see: Airtel, Idea, Reliance Communications), and messaging and VAS is on the decline, threatened, in particular, by the rise of messaging over Internet Protocol (MoIP?) services like Whatsapp. Note that these can’t be intercepted either (though the police claims that it can), and like it happened with BlackBerry in India, the game with other messaging services will also eventually resume. The same pattern is being seen in Internet Telephony.
So what does each stakeholder want? The government wants revenue