Answers to FAQs about using VoIP phone systems like Freshcaller, in India
There is a lot of ambiguity in India around the use of cloud-based telecom services and OTT (Over-the-top) services. The common perception is that you cannot use VoIP in India. However, finding the right answer to this conundrum would need a more nuanced approach.
Busting common myths about using VoIP
We know that there is a long standing perception that using cloud telephony — using an interconnectivity of VoIP and PSTN/PLMN — is illegal in India. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), India’s telecom regulator, exists to ensure that there is no revenue loss to the government when national resources are exploited, and that licensed service providers do not lose their fair share of revenue.
TRAI has clarified it in its recommendation issued in October 2017 that the telecom service providers in India who have obtained the following licenses are allowed to interconnect VoIP and PSTN/PLMN:
- Basic Service License
- Unified Access Service License (UASL)
- Cellular Mobile Telecom Service (CMTS) license
- Unified License (access service)
On the other hand, cloud telephony providers like Freshcaller only provide the technology to enable making/receiving VoIP calls and VoIP to PSTN/PLMN interconnection. In doing so, they would obtain numbers from and use the network of partners, licensed internet service providers (ISPs) and telecommunication service providers (TSPs).
In our view, it would thus suffice if these ISPs/TSPs possess the requisite licenses while cloud service providers need not obtain any separate license/registration. Additionally, if the TSPs/ISPs are not from India or providing India numbers, they wouldn’t even come under the purview of these licenses.
Through an amendment to CMTS and UAS License dated 19 June, 2018, telecommunication service providers have been mandated to use mobile numbering series for internet telephony. They can allocate the same numbers for both cellular mobile service and internet telephony service.
Inevitably, the following question on the use of VoIP is on Other Service Providers (OSPs) using VoIP — can OSPs in India use VoIP or cloud telephony?
So, can OSPs use VoIP in India?
Companies in sectors like telebanking, telemedicine, teletrading or eCommerce — where the dependency on telephony is high — registered as an OSP are subject to OSP terms and conditions. According to these, an OSP can only use telecom resources provided by an authorised telecom service provider.
That begs the question as to what the terms “telecom resources” and “telecom service provider” mean in this context.
What do the terms“telecom service provider” and “telecom resources” mean?
“Telecom service providers” (TSPs) are those who provide “telecom resources” under a license from the Government of India. However, the important aspect to note here is that the term “telecom resources” has a very limited meaning as defined in the OSP registration terms and conditions — it means Indian telecom facilities like PSTN/PLMN/ISDN and telecom bandwidth that are primarily national resources and owned by the Government of India, and licensed out to other providers through the Department of Telecommunications.
Even considering that the definition is inclusive, the legal doctrine of ‘ejusdem generis’ (of or as the same kind) can be applied and the term would only include provision of facilities that are similar in nature to PSTN or ISDN.
How can we classify Freshcaller?
Freshcaller does not provide such telecom resources and thus is not a telecom service provider. It is a cloud technology that serves as a virtual PBX to route calls. It is used on top of an existing telecommunications infrastructure, it is nevertheless still a technology.
But what if your regulatory team insists Freshcaller needs to be given some classification?
While it is not clear what ‘Over-the-top’ services (OTT) specifically means in India, services like Freshcaller may be loosely fitted into OTT.
So what does TRAI’s latest consultation paper on OTT say? TRAI’s Consultation Paper, 2018 mentions that,
“OTT players may, without a license, provide the same services as provided by TSPs. They do not require permission from any regulatory body or from TSPs. There is no requirement of interconnection or for any commercial agreements between OTT providers and TSPs.”
TRAI only regulates TSPs who provide telecom facilities like PSTN/PLMN/ISDN and is only consulting whether or not to implement any regulatory framework on OTT services. There is no law currently in force in India that regulates the use of such services. To the extent the OSP uses Indian telecom resources, the OSP needs to make sure that it obtains the same from an authorised telecom service provider. The OSP needs to ensure that any internet connection it uses is availed only from an authorised service provider.
So yes, businesses (OSPs) in India can use Freshcaller and other VoIP phone systems if they comply with the foregoing.