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Indian telcos have long feared direct competition from technology companies. It’s finally arrived at their doorstep—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vi could see those such as networking company Cisco encroaching into their territory. 

The Ken has learnt that Webex by Cisco, the company’s video conferencing and networking arm, has applied for a Unified License (UL) for access services pan India. It’s the licence under which Indian telcos provide wireline and wireless services. The access service licence also allows the licensee to connect two different sets of networks—Internet Protocol (IP) and PSTN, the traditional circuit-switched telephone network, or the landline.

The application for the access UL comes on top of a set of licences, including the UL-Virtual Network Operator (VNO), that Webex has already obtained, according to three sources in the know. VNOs are essentially licensed resellers of a specific service. In Cisco’s case, the VNO licences are for international long-distance calling and national long-distance calling, among others.

The VNO licence tree

There are 15 types of service authorisations, ranging from access services, national long distance, international long distance, VSAT, PMRTS, GMPCS, ISP, M2M, etc.


These sources and others The Ken spoke to for this story requested anonymity as they’re not authorised to speak to the media. Cisco did not respond to a set of questions sent by The Ken

Cisco’s moves could be considered almost unprecedented when one takes into account the way India’s telecom regulations are set up. 

It’s not common for networking companies to obtain a telecom licence. Networking companies are those that supply hardware such as routers and switches or enterprise software solutions such as video conferencing. They work closely with telcos, rarely competing with them.

Currently, users can use Webex or Zoom’s video conferencing capabilities only through an IP network—over the internet. And while you can technically dial into a video call from your phone, if you’ve used these facilities, you would have noticed that the dial-in option on the video conferencing invites users to dial a US-based number to access the video call. 

With the access licence, that would likely be an Indian number that users would be dialling. Meaning, they would be accessing the service through a local circuit-switched telephone network (or PSTN)—or what we know as the landline—or a mobile phone, in addition to the usual connection through the internet. But for Cisco to be able to offer that to its users, it needs both the access licence as well as the VNO licences.

Having access services licences can put Cisco in direct conflict with telcos, which bring in a big chunk of its revenues.

AUTHOR

Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

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