Sudipta Behera, Manager-Public Policy, Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI)
In India, with the most optimistic growth assumptions, there are approximately 400 million Internet users with 20 percent penetration. Out of this, maximum users are connected on narrowband, i.e., 2G or less. India also ranks very low in Internet competitiveness in both speed and cost as per the ITU report 2015.
National optic fiber deployment will take at least four more years to be fully functional. Spectrum will always be a constraining factor in terms of provisioning quality of access over mobile Internet; currently â€¨93 percent of users in India are on wireless.
Considering the scenario, the target of connecting the next billion needs a vastly different roadmap. A mix of new-age disruptive technologies and applications has enormous potential to accelerate the Internet adoption in the next 2-3 years, making absolute Internet connectivity a reality. Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) is one such application which can benefit the masses tremendously and help in quicker Internet penetration in the country.
VoIP is the next killer app. VoIP, an innovative disruptive application, is efficient and cost effective. Costing six times less than the traditional voice calls, this application has the potential to be the next killer app. The best thing about this technology is that it can be accessed with the lowest-priced smartphones and with minimum data consumption. VoIP applications are available on the mobile, and communication features are available on all productivity software. There are many bundled applications such as ecommerce, social media, games, e-banking, etc., that are partly VoIP-enabled. Hence, regulating VoIP would lead to fragmentation of Internet.
India needs Unrestricted VoIP. VoIP needs to be unconfined and unfettered to unleash its full potential. Any form of restrictions put an unnecessary technical and regulatory overload that discourages such services, slows down the broadband penetration, and harms consumer interests. In 2006, unrestricted VoIP was allowed for the unified access service providers (UASPs) and cellular mobile service providers (CMSPs). In 2008, TRAI recommended that even the ISPs could provide unrestricted VoIP services to bring down the NLD and ILD call rates, which was finally allowed by the government in 2014. However, so far this service has not been started by any of the service providers.
VoIP on PSTN is otherwise restricted in India. There have been many developmental changes and softening up of the regulations since 1999 but the country still works on antiquated laws. Further, the regulators are deliberating on how to regulate domestic VoIP and get it under licensing conditions. India is one of the very few countries where the unrestricted Internet telephony service is not widely available to users, and licensing it will further stymie the growth.
Restricted VoIP would destroy the immense amount of benefit it could bring to the economy. The world is moving to cheaper and most efficient technology and India cannot afford to do anything different. Unnecessary regulation should be abolished in order to create a stimulating environment for both traditional and new technologies.