The Amazon order delivery updates that came via SMS till sometime back have now moved to WhatsApp. Similarly, there are some other enterprise updates to customers that are now sent through WhatsApp instead of SMS. The transition has reportedly not gone well with the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the body that represents India’s top three telecom companies — Airtel, Reliance Jioand Vodafone-Idea.In a letter to telecom secretary Neeraj Mittal,COAI has accused global consumer-technology majors, such as Microsoft and Amazon, of “presumably circumventing and bypassing the legal telecom route” by using WhatsApp and other unregulated platforms to send enterprise messages to customers, causing a likely Rs 3,000-crore annual revenue loss to both the Centre and the service providers. Economic Times has seen a copy of the letter dated October 31,
“Renowned international corporations such as Amazon and Microsoft are presumably circumventing and bypassing the legal telecom route by disseminating messages to Indian customers via WhatsApp, Telegram,” COAI said in the letter. “This is not only an alleged gross violation of licensing and security norms but is also a clear loss of revenue for the exchequer and also loss of forex earnings,” the letter added.
The letter urged the Centre to “declare WhatsApp/Telegram as an illegitimate route for such (enterprise) communication,” which includes time-barred one-time authentication passwords needed for device access or validation of transactions.
Poses national security threat
The industry body said that the regulated SMS service offered by telcos is supposed to be used for such purposes. “In utter disregard to licensing norms and regulations, we are now witnessing a surge in the diversion of such traffic from the SMS channel to purely OTT channels, i.e. WhatsApp and Telegram, in a clear attempt to avoid the licensed route via telcos, thus impacting security norms while also leading to clear loss to the exchequer,” the COAI argued. The reason being that the messages on these platforms are end-to-end encrypted.
The letter further ‘warned’ that if the practice is not curbed, it could encourage the use of “grey and unmonitored routes, which can pose a security threat for the nation,” said the industry grouping.
Additionally, it said that the potential revenue loss for the industry and national exchequer would amount to Rs 3,000 crore. Telecom companies stand to lose a large part of this revenue if enterprise messaging moves to platforms such as WhatsApp.
Huge loss of revenue for telecom companies
The use of unlicensed routes to send international messages to Indian consumers has been highlighted by the telcos in a discussion paper on defining international telecom traffic. While domestic enterprise communications are charged Rs 0.13 per message, international enterprise alerts cost around Rs 4-4.5 per message. Telcos have claimed that tech companies are using the unlicensed route to avoid the international enterprise message charges.
COAI also highlighted that messaging using the SMS route is regulated by the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation (TCCCPR), 2018, which includes consumer consent as a caveat for businesses to be able to send out messages to customers. However, since the OTT platforms sit outside the regulatory framework, the TCCCPR mandate does not apply to them, making it easier to send unsolicited messages over platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. “While telcos are being penalised on every spam complaint by imposing financial disincentives, the OTT platforms (WhatsApp and Telegram) remain shielded as they have no governing framework,” the COAI said.

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