3G Mobile Video Calls Stopped by Indian Watchdog

Bob Styran, IT audit expert
December 19, 2010 /

Indian Department of Telecommunications disallowed on December 16, 2010 provision 3G mobile video calls of all three major providers due to presence of limitations to spy on particular types of calls.

None of Tata Tele, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications were able to show representative of the Department fully operating software to legally intercept of 3G video calls. State authority did not tell about results of review of other privately-owned Indian GSM/3G operators – Aircel, Vodafone Essar, and Idea Cellular.

State auditors noted, that video calls interception is not possible in real time and recorded calls available within 5 minutes after call in raw format, that requires additional decoding. Other comment relates to inability to see any content of a video call after 8th minute and improper tagging of 3G video conference calls.

Lawful interception of calls is normal telecommunication industry practice and 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) has general requirements for the interception in 3G networks, however, no specific requirements to data processing, codecs and call duration is provided. India has no modern laws on Lawful interception to regulate the process and Data Privacy and Protection to set extent of interception. Indian Telegraph Act dated 1885 is main governance document for authorities.

On December 17, 2010, Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications questioned this decision of the Department of Telecommunications and informed K. Sibal, Minister of Telecommunications, that the order to stop 3G video call services is discriminatory and seriously disrupts their business plans. They have also pinpointed, that Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and Mahaganar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MNTL) – both state-owned, enjoy provision of the same services for more than a year with the same limitations.

It is worth to note, that current industry average of 3G mobile video call usage assessed by Northstream, is 1% of total 3G calls, however growth potential is seen there in 2011 due to adoption of 3GPP standard for video calls and fact, that Skype video calls share is 40%.

Tata Tele, 26%-subsidiary of Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo invested $300 million in roll-out of 3G network (in addition to $1.3 billion for 3G license). Bharti Airtel investments are estimated at $700 million. Reliance Communications plans to buy approximately $500 million of equipment by the end of the year.


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