Last year the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) came out with the new OSP Guidelines (2020 Guidelines). This was a welcome move as this did away with the registration requirements and issues with working from home. I wrote about this here.
However, there were a few provisions which caused confusion from an operational point of view and the definitions also lacked clarity. The BPO industry seeked clarification from the DoT with respect to the new provisions. This brings us to the revised OSP guidelines (New Guidelines) which tries to clarify and further alleviate some of the pain points faced by the industry as an aftermath of the regulations.
The 2020 Guidelines clarified that the guidelines are applicable to voice based BPO services. This was not defined in the document. It left companies confused as to what will constitute a voice based BPO service.
The New Guidelines define voice based BPO services to mean call centre services provided to customers both in and outside India, where calls are made by or to a customer through PSTN/PLMN/ISDN. Here customers will mean the customers of the OSP centre.
The New Guidelines finally define what constitutes a toll-bypass. This has never been defined previously, despite being used frequently in different DoT documents. Historically, OSPs have been prohibited from causing toll bypass, usually interpreted to mean - impinging into the jurisdiction of licensed Telecom Service Providers (TSPs). The New Guidelines define toll bypass to mean the illegal transmission of PSTN (voice) calls between India and a foreign country or between two cities in India, by using the OSP's own network, as opposed to the network of the authorized TSP.
Now this gives rise to another question, what constitutes a private network. How should this be read? As per my interpretation this is likely to refer to a situation where the network of a National Long Distance (NLD) or an International Long Distance (ILD) service provider is bypassed and the call is terminated onto a PSTN network after being routed through a private network, which can be a MPLS/ leased line. In a recent Q&A session with the DoT, the takeaway seems to be (i) India PSTN/ Mobile customers cannot be connected to a public network of a foreign country through a private network of an OSP i.e. through IPLC/ MPLS VPN; and (ii) agents are required to use onsite gateway for incoming local PSTN/ mobile calls.
Apart from this the definition of telecom resources now explicitly mention - MPLS VPN, internet leased lines, wireline or wireless broadband and BRI/PRI lines.
Relaxations under the New Guidelines
The 2020 Guidelines did away with the requirement to register an OSP centre. The New Guidelines go a step further and removes the distinction between international and domestic OSP.
OSPs can now collect, convert and carry incoming PSTN/ PLMN /ISDN traffic over wide area networking technology like MPLS VPN or SD-WAN or MPLS/ NPLC and interconnect with their POPs and other OSP centres. SD-WAN cannot be used over the internet. Interconnection is now permitted between all OSPs, be it domestic or international or of the same or different companies.
Previously domestic OSPs were only allowed to use EPABX in India. This is no longer the case. Domestic OSPs can also use cloud based EPABX technology hosted outside India. However, call centres should be mindful of routing of domestic calls outside India and any such network should be vetted by the TSPs.
Currently, the New Guidelines do not prescribe any penalties for violation. However, we will have to see DoT’s approach towards violations in the coming months.
Work from home
The rules for work from home has been further relaxed and OSP agents working from home can now directly connect to the centralised EPABX of the OSP or EPABX of the OSP and the customer. Do note that this is an IP -PSTN conversion and is allowed only for OSPs. Again, according to DoT any VPN server or the gateway used to connect cannot be located outside India.
Compliance, inspection and reporting
The call data records (CDR) and the user data records (UDR) were required to be maintained at the OSP centres in India for a period of one year. Remote access to EPABX is still required if the EPABX is at a different location. The New Guidelines clarify what CDR and UDR should consist of. CDRs and UDRs must contain details such as the calling number, called number, date, start time, end time/ duration, identity of the device used in making the call, user identity initiating the session, MGW identity/ soft-switch ID, trunk ID, etc. System logs must include user/login identity, date and time of login and logout, commands/activities performed and the response to them. The CDRs must also be segregated for each OSP centre.
There is no requirement to make filings or submit reports to the DoT on an ongoing basis. Audits/ inspections by the DoT are also not envisaged within the scope of the New Guidelines. Although, OSPs may be subject to information requests from the DoT.
The reforms last year had helped the BPO industry to continue working remote. In fact the BPM industry revenues grew from USD 37.6 billion in 2019-20 to USD 38.5 billion in 2020-21, despite the pandemic. Overall, this is a welcome move, given the ongoing pace of digitisation and work from home becoming the norm rather than the exception. There still exist some issues with the New Guidelines, particularly how the definition of toll-bypass is likely to be interpreted. Further, many technology players are interested to have a conclusion regarding the impact on hosted cloud service providers and whether such hosted EPABX solution is allowed under the New Guidelines or will be dealt with separately. DoT has hinted that companies who are looking to offer hosted cloud contact centre service should obtain an UL or an UL (VNO) license.