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Airtel halts launch of VoIP packs

Bharti Airtel, the country’s largest cellular operator, on Monday put on hold the launch of recently-announced special data packs for voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls.

The move follows reports saying that sector regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will issue a consultation paper on over-the-top (OTT) players, including VoIP. However, Trai is yet to officially start the consultation process. 

“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,” Bharti Airtel said in a statement.

Earlier on Friday, the company announced the launch of special data packs for VoIP services. For pre-paid users, the VoIP exclusive pack was to be priced at Rs 75 for 75 megabyte (MB) with a validity of 28 days. 

“This will allow customers to make between 200 and 250 minutes of calling. Similarly, affordable VoIP plans will soon be launched for post-paid customers. There would be no other charges,” Bharti Airtel had said at the time. However, this was to be implemented over the next few weeks, and not immediately. Pre-paid users would have been able to use current data packs, if they recharged before December 24, till expiry.

Before this, Bharti Airtel had said it would charge 10 paise per 10KB (2G network) and 4 paise per 10KB (3G network) for VoIP calls, and normal data packs would not be eligible for VoIP calls.

Following Bharti Airtel’s decision to charge VoIP calls differently, consumers expressed concern on social media. 

Communications and Information & Broadcasting Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has also said that his department will look into the matter.

The company had defended its move to charge different rates for VoIP calls by stating: “Over the past 20 years, we have invested Rs 1.4 lakh crore in rolling out telecommunications services in every nook and corner of the country. In addition, we have paid Rs 50,000 crore in terms of government levies in just five years. Going forward, we are committed to rolling out data networks across the country. In order to ensure this, our business must be viable and sustainable. Our voice services that are enjoyed by every one of our customers provides us the capacity to continuously invest in and upgrade our networks on an ongoing basis. We, therefore, believe VoIP services in their current form are not tenable for us as a business. As a result, we will charge separately for VoIP services.”

According to the company statement, it is committed to making VoIP services “extremely affordable and attractive by ensuring adequate minutes for a very small charge on VoIP”.

Meanwhile, the company had selectively promoted its own VoIP service — Airtel Talk to foreign callers in the recent times. In India, Skype, Viber and Line are primarily used for VoIP, while Skype is the most used.


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