Time to take the right call on multiple issues

Time to take the right call on multiple issues

The telecom sector is expected to witness hectic activity in 2015 as several major developments are waiting to happen, including the futuristic over-the-top (OTT) players, VoIP services, spectrum auction and nationwide mobile number portability.

At the fag end of this year, private telecom major Airtel announced its plans to charge extra for internet voice calls or VoIP service, available through apps like Skype and Viber.

Though the company dropped its plan after pressure from various quarters, a debate was triggered on whether to allow the telecom players to collect extra charges for over-the-top players ( OTTPs), including VoIP services, or not.

The issue of collecting charges from users of Internet-based voice and texting apps like WhatsApp and Viber, which is also called over-the-top players, has been pursued for long by the domestic telecom firms.

The telecom companies have been demanding that TRAI should regulate the services of OTT companies or providers, saying that these firms should pay connectivity charges to telecom companies and share revenues with the government as well.

However, experts cautioned that collecting charges is against net-neutrality principles under which no company should discriminate or pose any kind of restriction on Internet-based services.

Level playing field
The telcos had said that the industry was suffering a minimum annual loss of Rs 5,000 crore a year, due to subscribers opting for free messenger services or voice over Internet calls. As telecom companies have invested huge sums of money to create networks, regulating the services of OTT would enable both parties to operate on a level playing field, telecom firms have said.

These apps have become very popular among mobile users by running on telecom bandwidth without being connected to the telecom industry. Since these apps offer free messaging across any telecom networks in India, the proposal to collect charges for these services from customers has faced strident public protests.

With TRAI planning to come out with a consultation paper on the issue, the future of OTTPs, whether they will remain a free service or not, is likely to be decided in 2015.

Number portability

With the government asking the telecom firms to offer nationwide mobile number portability (MNP) by May 2015, telecom consumers are expected to benefit out of it.

At present, subscribers are allowed to change their service providers while retaining the same number within a circle only. For example, a subscriber in Delhi NCR can switch an operator within the same place only.
Full MNP would allow mobile users to retain their phone number, even while shifting from one state to another. For instance, if an Airtel user in Delhi shifts to Vodafone in Bengaluru, he can retain the same Delhi phone number.

The issue of making available sufficient spectrum is also a challenge to the government as the Department of Telecom (DoT) has already announced a likely auction of radio waves by the end of February 2015.

The government expects to auction some amount of 3G spectrum along with radio waves in three sets of bands - 800 Mhz (used by CDMA operators), along with 900 Mhz and 1800 Mhz being used by Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications for 2G services across the country.

Besides, the Department of Telecom also plans to issue the first-ever national broadband policy, guidelines for spectrum sharing in 2015.

Even as the NDA government is planning an early rollout of government services through an electronic platform under the Digital India programme, the department will face the challenge of ensuring early completion of laying of optical fibre cables under the National Optical Fibre Network scheme connecting 2.5 lakh panchayats of India.

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