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February 4, 1998


The Forked Tongue

Vijay Shankar in Bombay

Email this story to a friend. Days after threatening its Internet subscribers against Net telephony, the VSNL is planning its own Web phone service!

Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited Chairman B K Syngal revealed this to Rediff On The NeT during the course of an interview on the ISP business that is to
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When asked if this would not fly in the face of the ISP policy which specifically says that voice over the Web would not be permitted, he reasoned that VSNL has the exclusive mandate to do this because of its monopoly position as the country's sole overseas telecommunications organisation.

"Yes we are carrying out pilot studies for this. We are on just grounds in getting into Web telephony as we are using Internet telephony as a technology for providing consumers with better services at a lower cost. We have the mandate to provide telephony," Syngal insisted.

And if you think this is not justified because voice is still being carried over the Web and the policy forbids it, Syngal has an explanation:

"This must not be confused with the use of the Internet PC for telephony which is not being allowed. The ISP policy of restricting the use of voice telephony on the Internet service is quite reasonable and does not in anyway contradict our policy of achieving bandwidth efficiency for providing better service.

"Have we not moved from the analogue to the digital in television? It is merely adoption of a technology. There is no case for objecting to VSNL plans. Right now we are only experimenting."

However, sources in the corporation have reportedly revealed that this "experimenting" will lead to a full-fledged Web telephony service within five months.

Talks are already on with the Department of Telecommunications regarding the pricing for such services.

Once Web telephony is in place, VSNL also plans to offer fax, data connectivity and other value-added services via the Internet.

It is also learnt that as part of its Web telephony project, VSNL is negotiating with several foreign equipment providers. There is no information yet about the investment that would be required to introduce Net telephony.

VSNL already has the gateway and the necessary infrastructure to provide such services. The only thing to be taken care of is the integration of the systems for Net telephony.

The corporation plans to set up a host server from which users can access VSNL's server to make telephone calls anywhere in the world. For this, it will provide separate bandwidth for Internet telephony services and a separate bandwidth for regular Internet usage.

This will also ensure that the bandwidth hogging voice and fax transmissions do not hamper normal Internet usage. Voice transmission tends to use much more bandwidth than text on the World Wide Web.

The time is ripe for VSNL to offer value-added services because private Internet service providers are yet to begin. The private players still lack the basic infrastructure for Internet services and other value-added services. VSNL is confident of grabbing a major part of the voice telephony market even before the others enter.

VSNL feels there is a tremendous potential in this market. "We are looking for long-term benefits," the sources added. The company is willing to wait and watch competition from private players for providing voice telephony.

Although the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has already banned private players from offering Internet telephony, the rules could be relaxed in the future if a majority of private players request it.

That would be a direct threat to the VSNL's core business of overseas voice telephony.

All this should explain the corporation's hurry to make a head start in Internet telephony even before there is a hint of relaxation in the country's cyber laws.


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