India telecom industry considers OTT services as serious issue

Describing over-the-top (OTT) services as a “serious worry” to the telecom industry, stakeholders said if the revenue churner “voice services” go away, it will be fatal.

“OTT is a serious worry. 85 percent of revenue of operators in India is voice… if that goes away, its fatal. Revenues are moving away to content and data from voice. This is really about existence and when your existence is in trouble, you get emotionally involved,” Marten Pieters, who recently stepped down as Vodafone India’s chief executive, said here on Thursday.

Pieters, who is also the outgoing chairman of GSM body Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), was replaced in the post by Himanshu Kapania, managing director, Idea Cellular.

Speaking at the COAI AGM and CEOs Roundtable on Accelerating Digital India Programme on Thursday, Pieters said: “We are not denying the new reality but we are just saying, give us some more time to adjust. This discussion needs to be pondered. Should operators be worried, yes because this is a capital intensive industry. There is a stress to the balance sheet and threat to the revenues.”

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The country has seen a range of debates in the last few months on net neutrality and the roles of OTT players.

“The key thing is to have a proper discourse. I think the discourse has to be objective and meaningful. First and foremost I want to clarify that we believe the OTT services should not be licenced, let me make that absolutely clear. The reason we believe they should not be licenced is because the last thing we would want is to stifle innovation that is happening in the OTT space,” said Gopal Vittal, joint managing director & CEO, Indian & South Asia, Bharti Airtel, who was also elected as new vice-chairman of COAI.

He said the growth of data services is caused by innovation happening in the OTT space.

“That is why we love OTT players because that is what drives our data growth,” Vittal added.

He, however, raised a concern over the basic voice services that are being offered by OTT players.

“We should all be subject to same rules. For example, if someone makes a call over VoIP (voice over internet protocol) services, there is no way to know what is going on in that call. That is a national security threat as there is no way to lawfully intercept it,” he added.