In what came as a shock to Airtel users in India, including me, the company announced that it would be charging extra for VoIP data regardless of what data plan you are on. This meant that the subscribers of the country’s largest wireless carrier would have to cough up quite a bit extra cash for services they usually use for free. This includes VoIP services offered by Viber, Skype, etc. What’s more, the country’s most popular IM client, WhatsApp, is about to roll out VoIP services – something for which its users have been yearning since long.
After facing strong criticism from the country’s internet savvy section, the carrier has decided to overturn its decision to charge users extra for VoIP. However, it isn’t the criticism from its subscribers that has prompted this, but rather a ruling by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Announcing the overturning of its previous decision, Airtel said: “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 (sic) the objective of digital India.”
This means that there’s certainly going to be a charge associated with VoIP data, albeit not right now. Telecom operators in India, such as Airtel, Tata DoCoMo, etc. have been facing huge losses thanks to the emergence of services such as Viber and WhatsApp, which allow users to communicate virtually at no charge. Airtel having the largest users base was bound to react to this before any other operator, which has also been the case. What is ironic though is the fact that this comes right at a time when the world is going gaga about net neutrality — something which is in stark contradiction to what carriers are hoping for.