The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Long-distance trio fights phoney rivals

New Delhi, June 4: Booming grey market operations in the international long distance (ILD) telephony has prompted the three licensed ILD private carriers — Bharti Telesonic, VSNL and Data Access — to launch a joint campaign against the grey market players.

Illegal operators usually front as cable operators, call centres and export houses and at times even route calls through illegal satellite gateways to bypass monitoring as well as to avoid the call being recorded by the government and regulatory bodies.

While routing the incoming call traffic, some re-sellers of ILD minutes abroad have tieups with illegal exchange operators in India who receive calls in the country and then transmit them to the illegal exchange operators.

As far as the outgoing ISD traffic is concerned, the grey market is mainly the outcome of the Internet Telephony service provider (ITSP) licence issued by DoT which does not have adequate safeguards to stop illegal routing of calls. Sources in the industry also indicate that call centres across the country have picked up an ITSP licence that allows them to route traffic on a voice over Internet IP (VoIP) to an internet point abroad.

While Bharti Telesonic, VSNL and Data Access have launched their services, Reliance, which also has the licence to offer ILD, has yet to launch its services. VSNL has customers like Bharat Sanchar Nigam and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam while Bharti Telesonic and Data Access have the majority of the mobile operators.

According to a senior executive in Bharti Telesonic, “The grey market segment is making a mockery of the government's security arrangements. In fact these security arrangements were imposed on the ILD operators who were required to install expensive hardware equipment and software to enable the security agencies to monitor ILD traffic both voice and data.”

The grey market operations in the ILD segment have escaped the security net of the government. “There is no indication that the government is serious about tackling the potential security threat posed by the grey market. An ILD operator like VSNL or Data Access carries a lot of ILD voice traffic to India through their networks, which terminate on either MTNL or BSNL lines,” a senior executive of Bharti Telesonic said.

Siddharth Ray, managing director of Data Access (India), says, “The solution to this is to take out the margin for illegal operation by reducing the gap between ILD termination rates and normal call charges. With rapid changes in telecom sector technology, the rules of the book need to change. It is time for the government to revisit the regulations.”

The rates paid by the ILD operators for terminating their long-distance traffic on these local networks is Rs 5.50 a minute. But BSNL and MTNL provide subsidised call charge to their retail customers, who use the normal landline, of Rs 1.20 per three minutes. So, if a long distance call is terminated as a local call, margins can be as high as Rs 5.10 per minute.

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