Just when Indians were looking forward to finally be able to justify the 3G enabled handsets they have been buying since the last 5 years, Indian government has poked their nose again at the 11th hour restricting the launch of 3G service by cellular operators in the name of “security”. Yeah, the same “security” thing that almost banned blackberry’s services a few months back.
Indian government is afraid that with 3G services, users will be able to do more than just talk on their cellphones. And at very high speed. They have asked the cellular operators to hold the launch of 3G services until they (the cellular operators) have the infrastructure in place for the government security agencies to be able to intercept these activities in real time. That’s basically a euphemism for – “we won’t let you launch 3G services until the government officials have the infrastructure to peep into your users’ activities”.
Apparently the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) is trying to plead to the government to allow the launch as scheduled and fixing a deadline for the operators to get the aforesaid infrastructure in place, instead of right away restricting the launch of the services. I am not sure if this strategy will work given the track record of Indian companies always failing to the meet the deadlines (Mobile Number Portability is a classic example).
I think that this situation should be handled rationally. One solution can be to go ahead with the launch but restrict services which cannot be intercepted as of now. I am assuming that the infrastructure to intercept voice service and text based data services like IM, web access, download etc. is already in place as we have been using them over EDGE/GPRS. Let’s go ahead and launch these and delay the launch of services that cannot be intercepted with the current infrastructure. I would assume that they would be services like VOIP, 3G video calls etc. I understand that both these are key USPs for the 3G services, but doing so will serve two purposes – it will put a controlled load on the 3G networks making it much easier for the carriers to scale their networks. And it will keep the government happy.
Although, one question does pop up in my mind – How have MTNL and BSNL been offering 3G service since the last 2 years? Aren’t they subjected to the same guidelines and Terms of Service? And why is the government ringing the bell at the 11th hour? Couldn’t they have made this clear when they were allocating the licenses? A few private operators like Reliance and Tata Docomo have already launched their 3G services. What happens to them? Probably this is the reason why this post has been categorized into the WTF section.
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