Taking another step forward
towards telecom modernisation, the government opened one more sector
-internet telephony for private participation from April 1, this year.
Making this announcement, the Minister for Communications and IT, Mr
Pramod Mahajan had observed that the government’s aim was "to
provide cheaper and technologically advanced services" to Indian
customers. Incidentally, international long distance (ILD) services were
also opened to private operators.
Guidelines for the internet
telephony were issued by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on
March 21, this year on the recommendation of Telecom Regulatory Authority
of India (TRAI). As per these guidelines, only Internet Service Providers
(ISPs) have been allowed to offer internet telephony for national as well
as international long distance calls, without paying any additional
licence fee, since internet telephony has been defined as a value-added
application service. As of now, TRAI has not levied any tariff on internet
telephony, but it reserves the right to review and fix a tariff any time
during the validity of the licence of the ISP.
ISP customers can now avail of this
service from Net-connected PC to any other net-connected PC (within or
outside India); Net-connected PC to telephone (PC in India and phone
abroad, not in India); and Internet Protocol (IP) phone to IP phone in
India or anywhere in the world. What is needed is a PC with a microphone,
a sound card and, of course, an internet connection. For using this
facility, the user pays the normal charge for a local call plus the fee
charged by ISP for providing this service. The fee for availing of this
service may vary from ISP to ISP. For example, for a call of one-minute
duration from anywhere in India to the farthest destination in USA, an ISP
may charge anything from four to eight rupees, as per the existing rates.
Such a call on the conventional fixed telephone would, otherwise, cost
about Rs 40 to 50 for one minute, as per the current tariff.
Earlier, the rates were much higher.
The cost advantage of IP telephony is, therefore, more than obvious.
Making international calls, at the rate of local calls, is only one
alluring aspect of VoIP. The other advantages include a number of
value-added services like distance learning and call centre applications.
In addition, two unique features of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
are also being developed. These are multicast conferencing (wherein the
user can simultaneously confer with a large number of users anywhere in
the world) and unified messaging whereby the user speaks and the system
converts it automatically into an e-mail or a fax message. The same is
true in the reverse process, meaning thereby that one need not read an
e-mail or fax message. One can hear the contents. Either way it is going
to be a boon for the visually handicapped persons. In fact, it is a
win-win situation for both the user as well as the service provider. The
user saves a considerable amount on his long distance telephone bills, and
can also avail of a number of value-added services at a much cheaper rate.
Simultaneously, the ISP earns because of the greater usage of the internet
access time. This earning is bound to increase as more and more
value-added services are provided.
Internet telephony works out cheaper
on one more count. Unlike conventional networks, the IP network enables
real time transmission of voice signals as well as data on the same
network, allowing ISPs to carry more traffic on their network. This brings
down the operational costs considerably, with the result that the customer
gets this service at a much cheaper rate. The possibility of voice
communication over internet, rather than the conventional public switched
telephone network (PSTN), first became a reality in the US in February,
1995 when a US firm introduced its internet phone software. However, the
first VoIP was successfully tried only as late as 1999. Since then it has
been gaining rapid acceptability.
Till about four years back when
internet telephony was evolving, and even today, people all over the world
are using e-mail as a mode of cheaper communication rather than making STD
or ISD calls which are far too expensive. If one accesses the Net through
cable network or digital subscriber line (DSL), the rates could be lower.
Though introduced first only in developed countries about five years back,
internet telephony has already changed the face of voice and data
communication all across the world. Even in developing countries it is
witnessing an explosive growth.
Satish Chandra Pandya