Kathmandu VoIP ‘Bandits’ Snared In ‘Operation Voice Fox’

This is scary, but true. There are still places in the world where using VoIP to make a long distance call can get you thrown into the hoosegow for half a decade.

One of the neat benefits of VoIP that is often touted is the ability to slip an ATA into your suitcase, plug it into any Internet-connected Ethernet port in the world, and instantly have your office or home phone sitting there with you. The business value of that can be tremendous, as any road warrior and/or small businessman can tell you. And as I’ve written many times, coming down the track at full speed is the ability to make your VoIP calls from handheld devices, including “cell phones” that really are miniature wireless data terminals, from tablets of all ilk, indeed from almost any portable device with a wire or wireless connection.

But world travelers had best be careful about where they make those VoIP calls from.

I was just reading a report in the Himalayan Times, datelined Kathmandu. It seems that Nepal’s Central Investigation Bureau, an arm of the local constabulary, raided what they called an illegal “VoIP call center” in Shantitole, Manamaiju (even Google maps couldn’t find this place), and arrested three people, two of them Bangladeshi. The call center was operating out of a private house. The entire operation consisted of a single desktop computer.

(For those not into the technical niceties of VoIP, it is possible – although not recommended for several very good reasons – to turn a desktop PC into a server, and run software on that server that turns it into a VoIP switch. There’s not a lot of reliability in such a system, but it does work, making the story of Kathmandu’s ‘VoIP bandits’ very credible.)

This past week’s arrests are just the latest of dozens in what the Nepalese cops are calling ‘Operation Voice Fox.’ Reportedly 79 VoIP bandits, many of them foreigners, are currently sitting in Nepal jails.

The penalty for using VoIP in Nepal is up to five years in jail and, lest there be any question of why VoIP is illegal, there’s also a fine equal to the long distance revenue that Nepal’s national telecom carrier allegedly lost because of the use of VoIP.

There are, by the way, a bunch of other countries with similar VoIP bans in place so, a word to the wise for any world traveler: Check the local laws before making that VoIP call, especially in third world countries.