The DoT's Valiant Fight Against Convergence

DQI Bureau
New Update

Ministers, bureaucrats and real-estate brokers delight in being surrounded by

a bevy of phones. Corporate users don't have the desk space. Most prefer one

instrument. Technology lets them handle multiple lines, identify callers, and do

whatever is needed.

Yet you'll often find two large, expensive phones on desktops in India,

especially in multinational or tech companies. One connects you to the outside

PSTN world, through the good old EPABX. The other's for the CUG: the closed

user group of users on the corporate network, across the country or the world,

connected by an IP-based data and voice network.

And behind these two phones is of course two sets of cable: Ethernet for data

and CUG voice, and the cable for the 'other' voice network.


In a converged world where voice, data and video all ride on IP packets, why

this silly barrier? The government is scared of 'toll bypass'. Instead

calling from Delhi to Mumbai over the public network, you might make that call

'free' via your internal IP CUG network all the way to Mumbai, and then

break out into the PSTN from there, depriving the incumbents of a couple of

rupees a minute. Thus they allowed IP telephony over the CUG, but mandated that

the two networks be physically separated!

In 2005, things apparently changed. Service providers such as BSNL and Tata

Indicom were allowed to go ahead and approve specific cases of a single

corporate network, as long as calls were logically separated by the 'call

manager'. Some companies went ahead with a single network, which also meant

one phone instrument on every desktop. You'd prefix 9 for an external PSTN

line, 8 for a CUG line.

This is no big deal for wireless services. One Reliance user can call another

anywhere in India within her CUG, paying toll only for numbers outside.


Wait, said the DoT, this is too much progress for one year. This will not do!

And it sent a terse directive on March 17: "Logical partitioning of EPABX

for termination of leased lines/PSTN/PLMN networks is not permitted". And

it set the clock back on convergence. (This is not unlike the brilliant idea

that wireless phones must be nailed to the wall: if you carry an FWT outside

your house, you can now go to jail.)

There are very few ways to tackle sheer stupidity, but one of them is to

simply go right ahead and do what it is right. Specifically, I am hoping that

enterprises are going to go ahead with a single network, and perhaps a few will

take the DoT to court for arbitrary reversals and malicious and motivated

actions. This time round, it looks like most of the service providers, even the

incumbents, will be with them, speaking with one (converged) voice.

Prasanto K Roy