Less than a week after news broke that Airtel was planning to charge extra for access to VoIP services on its 3G network, the company backtracked on Monday and announced it will not be launching any VoIP packs.
In the statement, Airtel has said that it will wait for Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to release its consultation paper on OTT services, which essentially includes all apps and services that make use of the Internet.
Statement from Bharti Airtel
In view of the news reports that a consultation paper will be issued shortly by TRAI on issues relating to services offered by OTT players including VOIP, we have decided not to implement our proposed launch of VoIP packs.
We have no doubt that as a result of the consultation process a balanced outcome would emerge that would not only protect the interests of all stakeholders and viability of this important sector but would also encourage much needed investments in spectrum and roll out of data networks to fulfil the objective of digital India.
Trai has earlier held a seminar on how OTT players should be treated and telecom operators predictably said they want a "level playing field".
However, a look at the proposed tariffs, which Airtel has now postponed, shows VoIP data rates of Rs. 1/ MB, which is five times higher than the cost of other data usage. This play field is being made deliberately uneven, because Airtel believes that "VoIP services in their current form are not tenable for us as a business."
Given that the Trai Chairman has already spoken in public stating that net neutrality is not a concern, people should realistically be worried that the consultation paper from Trai could also be as anti-consumer as Airtel's first proposed data rates, which Airtel and other telcos can then use as a shield for any excessive charges.
While Airtel may have stopped the move for now, it seems more like a postponement than a cancellation of its plans. Clearly, we've not heard the last on this issue.