It is known that relatively high tariffs in the international long distance (ILD) market have led to grey market operations. Recently, a committee formed under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) took a look at how the grey market operates. The report listed various methods of grey market operators among others. It pointed out that the international grey market links are established through very small aperture satellites (VSAT) antenna, international private leased circuits (IPLC), ISDN lines, single or multiple high bandwidth lines for call centres, data centres, direct-inward dialling (DID) operators, business centres and Internet service providers (ISPs). The report also says other media like bulk telephone lines (landlines, wireless in local loop or mobile phones) and even EPABX extension lines could be used for grey market activities.
Having identified the fact that there are various parties and steps invol-ved in facilitating grey market operations, telecom experts also recognise that present conditions make it difficult to detect illegal operations.
It is not just the consumers and operators who derive benefits out of advanced technology, those operating in illegal activities also make the best use of it. Grey market operators are increasingly becoming high tech and are using mechanisms like pre-paid cards (including pre-paid cellular cards collected on fictitious documents) and cellular and wireless in local loop (WLL) phones to terminate calls on public switched telephone network (PSTN), says the recent Trai committee report on grey market operations.
It explains that such activities are usually carried out unmanned and they could also be overseen from outside the country as calls can be switched to the local network automatically. Those on the enforcement side who thought that origin of grey market operators could be established with caller line identification (CLI), need to realise that the operators conceal their locations by suppressing the CLI of their cellular and WLL connections.
How exactly are the above media used To start with, grey market operators (those without ILD licences) obtain bulk connections from local access operators. These bulk lines are then interfaced with unauthorised international links for distributing calls in the local network, says the report. International incoming calls brought through by these routes are then distributed within the national network. Distribution in the local network is finally done through fixed lines, wireless in local loop (WLL) or cellular connections. The illegal part in this routing is that the international, national and local access operators network which are meant for ILD call termination are bypassed.
Thus, grey market operators do not have to pay network access charges to ILD, NLD and access operators. They pay only the local access charges to access providers and thus, make huge profits. The report says that grey market operations involve not just Indian nationals but also operators from other countries like the US, who hand over calls to unauthorised operators in India either directly or indirectly. The committee suggests that the Trai may need to discuss this with regulatory bodies of other countries like Federal Communications Commi-ssion of the US.
The committee outlines various reasons for grey market operations. These include service providers who provide international and domestic leased lines and interconnection with networks without proper verification. The service providers could run a check on how these lines are ultimately used. Moreover, the licensor doesnt have a nodal agency at the circle levels for checking illegal activities. The committee also notes that there are no controls over foreign satellites providing transponders having footprints over India. These satellites may be hired for illegal provision of bulk telephone lines by access providers. Although various points of leakage have been identified, one now needs to wait for action taken after the report.