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VoIP and SIP are great! Now make sure it’s legal

By Posted May 24, 2012

Recently I’ve drawn a number of analogies between the migration to SIP Trunking and past migrations of enterprise network services. But there’s one way in which this movement is very different than changes from private line to frame relay to MPLS: In many countries, VoIP is either illegal or restricted to only one or two carriers.

Or to put it more precisely: Voice is only permitted to certain carriers. In these countries, VoIP is often considered no different than any other type of voice. If you’re carrying a telephone call (whether by IP or POTS or two cans strung together by string), and you’re not Carrier X, you’re breaking the law.

Learning that you simply can’t run VoIP in, say, the United Arab Emirates, or that China severely restricts who can carry any of this voice traffic, comes as a surprise to many enterprises. Often these users are accustomed to trying out each succeeding generation of data services in their home country and then, if it works, extending it internationally. But you have to remember that many countries have always been sensitive about “telecommunications,” which for them is first and foremost about phone calls.

In some countries, the principal wireline telecom provider is the best-known (or only known) company that comes from that country. In others, it’s either still part of the government, or was privatized in such a way that far more of its citizens hold a stake in it than any other company.

And the way in which incoming voice traffic is basically taxed through the “settlements” process is often so crucial to the country’s finances that the government doesn’t feel it can relinquish control to a lot of new, foreign carriers. Mexico certainly comes to mind on that score.

To be sure, a lot of simply “VoIP” traffic goes in and out of some of these countries anyway. But remember what SIP Trunking entails – an actual replacement of the voice telecom infrastructure, not just toll avoidance. That prospectively makes it much more visible – even more so if you add on unified communications and collaboration services.

While this turns SIP Trunking and VoIP into an important legal matter, it’s interesting how this actually reinforces best practices in SIP Trunking and WAN procurements. LB3’s international regulatory expert, Deb Boehling, notes that this is another reason why detailed demand sets with precise VoIP network implementation descriptions, often including individual locations (domestically and globally), need to be developed in these types of procurements. The legal research to assess how far SIP Trunking and VoIP over your WAN can be deployed internationally needs to begin from these location lists and other detailed projections of the traffic out for bid.

Of course, any snapshot of the legal status of VoIP traffic in a given country may change, just as the state of play in USF and other surcharges on SIP Trunking in the U.S. is ever evolving. As converged networks really are starting to become reality, there’s an important legal dimension that needs to be taken up, and then followed throughout the lifecycle of global telecom contracts.

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