LDI-backed Anti-voip Move – Now More Evil

There is nothing bad in an Internet world than to fear new technologies. In fact, fearing new technologies in general is a bad idea itself.

Pakistan – like the rest of the developing countries – stands strong as a potential beneficiary from the worldwide ICT related businesses provided a liberal Internet policy is adopted at all levels.

When PTCL was a monopoly in telecommunications in Pakistan and in came the cellular operators, positive things happened for the consumers – services improved, rates declined and availability got almost ubiquitous. Of course, the financial success that the cellcos met in Pakistan is an over-stated fact.

The left-behinds in all the high-water mark events mentioned above were the LDI operators who, while started off with great zeal and put in a lot of money too, found the telecoms environment too diluted and with much of undercutting going on. The rates (for termination inside Pakistan) went as low as 1 cent per min for wholesale carriers. A number of LDI operators burnt out in these conditions never to be seen again.

Later, around the beginning of this year (2008), sanity finally prevailed and the LDI operators and the authority decided that it was time to end the next to free rates to Pakistan termination traffic and raised the nominal tariff to 10 cents per minute. This move, which was essentially about LDIs putting their own house in order, alone injected a new life in their business. Salaries for the staff started coming in time and new equipment started being ordered by the operators.

Despite some undercutting, the rates in the international market for wholesale termination inside Pakistan are still above the 7 cents per minute mark and this leaves a considerable room for the operators to keep and take their business forward. According to rough industry estimates, only the recorded business is worth in access of 700 million minutes (or $35 million @ 5c/min) per month (grey traffic not included).

The LDI operators, in an effort to pump more out of this new found oil well, requested en mass the PTA to go after the grey traffic operators and invested in equipment that claims to detect and mitigate voip traffic in real time. This equipment has been on the international exit points in Pakistan. Suspected IP traffic was detected and investigated to see if it grey, or belongs to an un-intimated call center. This stuff was reportedly being done manually so far.

So far, the business-saving and law-enforcing arrangements by the LDIs and PTA appear to be logical and permissible. No one likes grey operators – the steal legal traffic from licensed players, do not pay taxes and do not help when LEA wants their help in tracing crimes and these guys are generally of, well, grey character themselves.

But when you see this item in today’s The News, it starts getting really uncomfortable:

PTA to start automated blocking of IPs
By By our correspondent
8/27/2008
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) will start automated blocking of Internet Protocol Addresses (IPs), involved in illegal termination/origination of international traffic, in a bid to check grey traffic flowing into the country. The facility will be operational within the next few days.

This was announced by PTA Chairman Dr Muhammad Yaseen in a meeting with the CEOs of major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) of the country held at the PTA headquarters on Tuesday.

He requested all the ISPs to declare their IP addresses along-with the antecedents of their customers so that illegal telecom traffic could be monitored. It was emphasised that the operators should oversee their customers to make sure they are not involved in grey traffic termination. He sought the operators’ cooperation to stem the menace of grey telephony.

The ISPs appreciated the recent steps taken by the PTA including an announcement in the press wherein call centres were asked to provide their IP addresses to the PSEB to ensure uninterrupted services.

Since the inception of technical facility in May 2008 at the PTA, the IP addresses found to be involved in illegal activities were being blocked manually and in the process, over 14 million minutes (worth around Rs100 million) have been saved on monthly basis. Now these would be automatically blocked if any IP, not authorised to carry voice, is found doing so. Under the current policy, only LDIs and international call centres are authorised to carry voice across national boundaries.

The problems with the above arrangements are many:

  1. There ‘real-time’ nature of the voip blocking apparently takes away the manual process and the sanity that can possibly accompany these efforts
  2. The regulator will now essentially be ‘peeking’ inside the contents of the traffic. True, they are looking for voice packets but one is justified to think, ‘what’s next’?
  3. PC-to-PC voip traffic – which unfortunately has been neatly wrapped in clouds of uncertainty by the regulator despite the industry literally begging for clearer guidelines on this topic – might get disrupted. The optimistic take here is that the Naurus gear would be intelligent enough to have thresholds that can distinguish between an occasional PC-to-PC voip caller and a bulk grey operator.
  4. For the network applications administrators, troubleshooting will now get more complex as the high-end IP transit operators are no more acting transparently and the traiff is getting actively peeked inside and the Naurus system would be fiddling with it if it passes the defined litmus tests of being grey voice.

The LDI operators are best advised to invest more into the reliability and reach of their network instead of lobbying the regulator to take effects that could be counter ICT development. The industry is clearly against illegal activities but at the same time, a liberal Internet regime is one of the prime enabler of a saner IT featuring future of Pakistan.

All are requested to keep an eye on their network performances with the possibility of network issues cropping up due to this imminent implementation of automatic voip traffic suppression.

And let us hope the equipment vendor is not making us a guinea pigs for their new software releases!

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9 Responses to “LDI-backed Anti-voip Move – Now More Evil”

  1. Babar Says:

    Good roundup of the situation. This is so unfortunate. Part of the roots of this situation is the old school thinking which is still common in places like UAE. But why Pakistan?

  2. Tee Emm Says:

    Probably because of lack of creativity in the LDI business leaders in Pakistan. :(

  3. Rakeshn Says:

    This is essentially another page from the ‘Net-Neutrality’ debate. I wonder if there are any voices/concerns being raised for net-neutrality in Pakistan? Any policy initiative etc.?

    Practices like giving discriminated treatment to any particular type of traffic result into an unleveled playing field for that domain/businesses.

  4. Omer Ansari Says:

    Great piece TMB!

    Apart from the pure ethics around all this, consider the technical challenges when they start to automatically classify and block IPs with PC-to-PC traffic. Would the ISP lose the blocked IP from its “paid” pool of IPs forever? Are these going to be temporary blocks, and if so, what would the duration be? And why block the complete IP address when only certain traffic?

    Technologies like NBAR (Network Based Application Recognition) can dynamically match and block certain traffic from IP address, and I certainly hope their using Cisco gear on their egress, because you’d need to have this take place in hardware so that you don’t compromise performance.

    Omer

    • Naima Lashari(Royal News Chanal) Says:

      hi Umer i wanna tlk to u about MYO Projects i want to invite u n ur team in my Tallant Show..so contect me m waiting

  5. kotsengkuba Says:

    Use SKYPE ;-)

    I can’t believe I was wasting too much money making international calls when I could actually save a fortune by using VOIP and Skype. Now I’m enjoying unlimited PC to Landline and Mobile calls to 20 countries for only $11.55 per month. How cheap could that be ;-)

  6. SQ Says:

    I need to understand the LDI business, its strengths and weaknesses in layman’ s terms. Can someone please help me out

  7. Pakistan Telecom Industry Slows Down : Green & White Says:

    [...] Anti-voip policies, grey telephony and increase in long distance rates for calls to Pakistan [...]

  8. Khan Says:

    If we think for a moment that why west is doing well that us because of the free communication. Look at any western or any devolved countries do they block VOIP ?? no in fact they encourage it why ??? simply because the leaders and governments of those countries has broad thinking, where in countries such as Pakistan leaders and government are loyal to one company or persons and ignore the rest of the public who can earn big amount of foreign exchange.
    Example 1:
    There are many small companies, people who work for companies abroad, do they work for free ??? if there were no restriction on VOIP it would open doors to most people to bring in the foreign exchange. In order to have a legal VOIP system in place one must show that they are getting revenue in foreign currency, how can a small business attain this without getting customers, it will be wise if the government open this doors for the general public.
    They think the losses they are making by illegal VOIP calls but they do not think that at the same time can bring foreign exchange.

    Example 2:
    If the government offer free tax zones facility in different cities so the manufacturer can bring the raw material to these zone and export it back to foreign countries how much foreign exchange will we earn ?? why should they do this ?? they will not as they do not get kick back

    This country will not do good unless we have honest and intelligent leaders who think for the who population.


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