6 Questions to Ask Your Telecom Consultant

Every company at one time or another utilizes outside consultants to help reduce costs and/or help with managing specific projects. Telecommunications is an area where consultants can not only help your company reduce expenses, but also provide ongoing support as your company grows and your telecom needs change.

Deciding on which consulting firm to bring on board can be tricky. The choices are vast. Most firms are reputable, but the industry is chocked full of “fly by night” firms looking to make a quick buck by conducting inadequate telecom audits and/or hawking telecom services under the guise of being a “telecom consulting” firm. Before you decide on which company to go with, arm yourself with the following questions that will help sort the good from the bad.

#1 How Long Have You Been in Business?

This seems like an obvious and logical first question. Many companies fail to ask it, and if they do, fail to put a high degree of importance to it.

Deregulation of the industry in 1984 saw the beginning of massive changes industry-wide. It is safe to say that the changes within the telecommunications industry over the last 20 years have been greater than those of the previous 100 years. Hundreds of new telecom carriers were spawned during this time – each with their own systems and processes. Selecting a consulting firm that is established enough to have experienced these industry changes first hand will bring you a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise in dealing with carriers.

Choose a consulting firm that has been in business for at least 10 years, preferably 20 years or more. An organization that has been in the telecom consulting game for that long will have an excellent track record of success for their clients.

#2 What Area of Telecom Consulting Is Your Expertise?

When interviewing prospective telecom consulting firms, be sure to ask them what areas they feel are their strong points. A prospective telecom consultant will assume that you have narrowed down your own specific telecom needs and/or problems that you want and need addressed.

Even though you may not be able to identify one specific problem, write down your general telecom concerns. For example: Are you looking to reduce costs through telecom audit? Does your department need to be more efficient with bill paying, moves, adds, or changes? Are you looking to upgrade or replace equipment? Are you looking for telecom training for your staff? Are you considering migrating to a VoIP environment?

These questions deal with different aspects of telecom. Once you have focused on your own specific telecom needs, it becomes much easier to match those concerns with the prospective consultant’s strong areas of expertise. The closer the match, the better.

#3 What Is the Size of Your Consulting Company?

The telecom “meltdown” and widespread layoffs of the mid-to late 1990s spawned many telecom executives to enter the telecom consulting field. Even customer service or carrier sales reps tried their hand at telecom consulting. These “one-man shops” may offer flexibility and individual attention, but be careful when choosing to trust your entire telecom department with them.

These consultants will often farm out work to larger firms, in essence acting as a middleman without your knowledge. On the other hand, big is not necessarily always better. Large firms often will only work with companies doing in excess of $100,000 or more per month in telecom spending. Before contracting with any telecom consultant, be sure that you understand exactly who will be doing the work and identify the contact person responsible for progress reports, updates and to get your questions answered during the course of the project.

#4 Can You Provide Specific Case Studies and Results of Your Current of Past Clients?

A successful and reputable consulting firm will have experience in a wide variety of industries. When asking for references, don’t just get a few names and numbers to call. Ask to see specific projects that have been completed for clients in your industry or one that is similar. If it is telecom auditing services you are seeking, request to see specific results of recent audits that have been completed.

Ideally, this information should include the specific recommendations that were made and the percentage of cost-reduction attained after the audit was complete. Look for a firm that has consistent success in a variety of industries.

#5 What Are Your Fees and How Are They Structured?

Today’s telecom consulting industry contains a variety of fee structures and fee arrangements. Ultimately the valuation of services and the procedures by which fees are structured are matters of personal preference and should be based on total agreement between the consultant and client. Generally, fees will fall into one of three categories – hourly or per diem, project or fee based, and contingency.

Time-based projects can be billed hourly or per diem and may include the consultants expenses. Fee based projects are for those that are clearly defined but may require the most work by both client and consultant. Contingency arrangements may be the most popular, especially for telecom auditing.

Contingency arrangements are based on results attained for the client-usually a percentage of cost-savings rendered for a 12-24 month period. Be wary of firms that require large upfront retainers or advance payments. A reputable consulting firm will suggest the fee arrangement that suits not only the project but also your needs and budget as well. Very low quotes may suggest “boiler plate” solutions that could cost your company more in the long run. No company can survive without being paid reasonable compensation for services renderered. As in most business situations, you “get what you pay for”.

#6 Are You Compensated by Vendors or Carriers?

If you are quoted a very inexpensive fee arrangement for telecom consulting services, you may be dealing with a company whose eventual recommendations will be for products and services for which they receive commissions.

Telecom consulting services should be unbiased and be based on recommendations that are in the best interest of the client. Very small firms (1-3 person operations) are notorious for leading you in the front door with very low cost auditing services, then going for the “backend” by recommending their own carriers and/or vendors. Always be sure they firm you deal with has no affiliations (financial ones) with telecommunications providers and vendors.

There is no doubt that engaging a telecom consulting firm will help your company cut expenses and increase efficiency. Asking the right questions will help you save time and money in your search for the telecom consulting firm that will best suit your needs.

Approvals For Setting Up an Indian Satellite System and Provision of Satellite Service in India

Approvals, Registrations and Authorizations Required for Setting up an Indian Satellite System and Provision of Satellite Services by Satellite Operators in India

In my previous articles on provision of satellite services in India, we analyzed the regulatory framework and the possible entry options available to foreign satellite operators to establish its business presence in India and provide satellite services in the Indian subcontinent. One of the entry option is setting up an Indian Satellite System (“ISS”) by the foreign satellite operator for providing satellite based services on a commercial basis in India and be eligible for all the preferential treatment accorded to such systems in service provisioning in India. For the purposes of establishing an ISS, the foreign satellite operator and/or domestic Indian company, as the case may be, (“Satellite Company”) would need to obtain various approvals and registrations with the Indian regulatory authorities.

Incorporation of the Indian Company

For the purposes of setting up of an ISS, Satellite Company would need to incorporate a company (“Newco”) under Indian laws. Under the Companies Act, 1956 of India, a company limited by shares may be incorporated either as a private company or as a public company. Under tax and other statutes and regulations, private and public companies are ordinarily treated similarly. Therefore, Satellite Company may consider incorporating Newco as a private company.

Registration with CAISS

In the year 1997-1998, the Government of India (“GoI”) announced the Satellite Communication Policy Framework (“SatCom Policy”) and formulated the norms, guidelines, and procedure for registration of Indian satellite systems by private Indian companies and allowed limited use of foreign satellites (i.e., uplink from India) in special circumstances provided the satellites were coordinated with the INSAT satellites. Pursuant to the SatCom Policy, the GoI authorized Indian Space Research Organization (“ISRO”) to set up a Committee for Authorizing the establishment and operation of Indian Satellite Systems (“CAISS”), with its Secretariat at the Satellite Communication Programs Office at ISRO Headquarters at Bangalore.

For the purposes of registration with CAISS, Newco would need to submit a detailed project proposal to CAISS stating details of its project including the aims, objectives and background of Newco including its equity structure; the satellite proposed to be launched or leased, spacecraft description, manufacturing and launch details of the satellite, capabilities of all payloads and system, network description and characteristics, orbit spectrum requirements, spacecraft launch vehicle; data and location of satellite launches proposed by Newco, etc.

The Satellite Coordination Programme Office, which serves as the Secretariat of CAISS, reviews and examines the application in light of the SatCom Policy and the norms and guidelines and procedures approved by the GoI. The Secretariat will, thereafter, put up the application for CAISS’ consideration.

In terms of DoS’s Internal Rules for the approval process, the applicant company is required to provide its orbit-spectrum requirements with alternate choices indicating priority and the applicant company must have an orbital slot prior to submitting an application to CAISS.

Once CAISS grants its approval for operating the satellite system, Newco will need to coordinate with Wireless Planning & Coordination Wing to initiate inter-system co-ordination and issue authorization to operate the satellite in accordance with the ITU Radio Regulations. The GoI may also authorize Newco to directly co-ordinate with other satellite systems operators on technical aspects. The ISS implementation status would continue to be monitored by CAISS.

Foreign Investment Approval

GoI’s foreign direct investment (“FDI”) policy in Indian companies either by setting up of wholly owned subsidiaries or joint ventures is regulated by the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999, and the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a person resident outside India) Regulations, 2000 (“FDI Regulations”). In terms of the FDI Regulations, FDI is allowed on an automatic basis in almost all sectors except where the proposal (i) requires an industrial license; or (ii) falls outside notified sectoral policy/caps or under sectors in which FDI is not permitted; etc.

Proposals which do not satisfy the parameters prescribed for automatic approval, require prior approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (“FIPB”) which is a competent body functioning under the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, to consider and recommend FDI. The FIPB consists of members from the Department of Economic Affairs, Department for Industrial Policy & Promotion, Department of Commerce, Ministry of External Affairs, amongst others.

In terms of the FDI Regulations, an Indian company can receive foreign equity investment upto 74 percent to establish and operate Indian satellite systems subject to obtaining prior FIPB approval. Once FIBP approval is obtained, the Indian company can directly receive funds through banks authorized to deal in foreign exchange and issue shares to foreign investor subject to submitting prescribed reports with the Reserve Bank of India (“RBI”) within 30 days from receipt of the share consideration amount and issue of shares to the foreign investors.

Satellite Company will need to submit a detailed application with the FIPB for obtaining its approval for foreign investment. The application would need to be supported by documents including the brochures and profiles of Satellite Company or its affiliates, business plan/project report, memorandum and association of articles of Newco (if Newco has already been incorporated), etc.

Submission of Report to the RBI

Once Satellite Company obtains FIPB approval, Newco would need to receive funds from Satellite Company by way of inward remittances through banking channels and submit a report with the RBI with in 30 days from the receipt of the amount of consideration.

Upon receipt of the funds, Newco can issue shares to Satellite Company and submit a report (in the prescribed form) together with an appropriate certificate from the company secretary of Newco. The price of shares to be issued by Newco to Satellite Company would need to be not less than the fair valuation of shares done by a chartered accountant as per the guidelines issued by the erstwhile Controller of Capital Issues.

Miscellaneous Licenses and Registrations

Newco would need to obtain additional registrations and licenses including a permanent account number and tax deduction account number under the Income Tax Act, 1961, registration under the Shops and Establishments Act, and trade tax and professional tax registrations depending on the State in which Newco is registered/incorporated. The operating licenses for services to be provided by the ISS (in addition to being a satellite operator, if any), will need to be obtained separately from the concerned administrative departments like the Department of Telecommunication for telecom services and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for TV and radio broadcasting.

There is presently only one ISS in India, which is Agrani (Zee Group/Dish TV venture). Agrani has however so far not been able to set up a satellite system even though it has entered into a long term collaboration with ProtoStar I Ltd. for lease/purchase of transponder capacity. No other application is presently pending before the CAISS for its consideration for setting up an ISS.

My next article on the subject will deal with the procedure and costs involved for registration of Newco as an ISS with CAISS in India.

Seema Jhingan

Integrating Online Fax With VoIP

Online faxing is the order of the day and businesses are getting rid of the traditional faxing methods. The Internet fax enables you to send/ receive faxes by email and it does not require a dedicated phone line. It is also to be noted that VoIP enables you to make phone calls over the Internet with a lot more efficiency and much more economically than the traditional telephone services.

The telecommunication scenario has drastically changed and today you have the capabilities of faxing and communicating on the phone as part of the convergent technology. Faxing has actually become not only more efficient but also convenient, and cost-effective because of the Internet and email facility and fax-over Internet protocol (FoIP) technology by which faxes are sent over the Internet.

Though the importance of fax has dwindled due to the proliferation of scanners and email, there are still millions of fax users worldwide and presumably the only way a person can receive a copy of a document is through fax and a telephone connection.

VoIP phones have made certain innovations possible which were not feasible through traditional telephone devices. As the potential to send /receive fax messages over the Web has become a reality, VoIP technology for digital phone calls has emerged as a possible replacement for the traditional, land-line-based telephony. You will find in the market several service providers offering plans that include both internet fax and VoIP telephony.

VoIP fax service enables the subscribers to send important documents, text files and other information long distance by simply inputting a recipient fax ID and then the information gets transmitted.

Faxing has been around for several decades now and most of the protocols were written with the intent of sending those signals over traditional phone circuits using sounds. Those sounds were converted into data by the receiving fax machine. If there was some loss of data, then the receiving fax machine will shut down the transmission. The issue is that the codec’s used by VoIP IADs are designed to compress voice, not the analog signals sent/received by modems.

In a VoIP Internet scenario, voice is first converted into packets and then they are sent over the connections that make up the vast Internet. The end result is the receiving VoIP device has enough packets to make a clear and coherent conversation.

VoIP fax software is among the most innovative products currently offered to the users. The new integrated software is designed to enhance the functions of fax communication over VoIP. The software includes host and embedded VoIP and FoIP solutions to meet the growing need for multimedia products. With the ever expanding business community relying on VoIP fax, the new integrated software provides more reliable fax communication over their VoIP lines.

Interestingly, with VoIP Fax number you can send/receive audio, color faxes, black & white faxes and voice messages without any modem. You can manage to work easily with Fax VoIP and PBX phone or with your SIP service providers for VoIP fax feature.

In order to ensure that faxes do not get fragmented by VoIP systems, the international regulatory body has created the T.38 standard. This is a special protocol which specifies all the “fax specific” factors to make sure that the outgoing and incoming faxes are not garbled.

Technically speaking, you must make sure that your VoIP connection for you line that you fax on is set to G711. This is a non-compressed codec. If you do not have access to this setting call your provider and make sure your connection is set for G711.