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Home ministry asks DoT to stop all 3G services

Mansi Taneja  |  New Delhi 

Says nothing should move until system is in place to enable full tapping of lines.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to direct service providers to stop the operation of all third generation (3G) mobile services across the country, “particularly in Jammu & Kashmir”, till the infrastructure to enable full tapping of lines is put in place.

Noting BSNL’s launch of 3G services in Jammu, the MHA said apart from problems in interception of video calls, the existing lawful tapping infrastructure is severely limited in providing usable intercepts.

“The feasibility of blocking all such services for which there is no demonstrated monitoring capability to provide lawful interception may be explored by DoT. Till a solution is arrived, all telecom service providers may be directed not to provide 3G services, particularly in Jammu & Kashmir,” the MHA said in a communication to Telecom Secretary P J Thomas.

This issue had come up last year, too, when DoT had asked BSNL and MTNL to have call monitoring facilities to enable security agencies to intercept the calls in 3G mobile services.

BSNL had launched 3G services in Jammu last month and was planning to expand it. 3G mobile services allow mobile users to access the internet and download data at a much faster pace than second generation (2G) mobile services. 3G support services such as emails, chats, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype, besides video calls, the MHA letter noted.

BSNL had demonstrated its interception facilities in Jammu, which the security agencies found was unable to offer intercepts of the widely used internet services on account of their proprietary encryptions/protocols, according to the communication.

Both BSNL and MTNL, the two state-owned telecom companies, had launched 3G services ahead of private players (they were allotted the spectrum two years earlier). BSNL has a 3G subscriber base of about 1.5 million, while MTNL has about 400,000 subscribers. MTNL operates in Delhi and Mumbai, while BSNL operates in the rest of the country.

HANG UP

# MHA says infrastructure not in place to intercept video calls

# Only BSNL and MTNL offer 3G services currently

# BSNL has a 3G subscriber base of 1.5 million, MTNL has 400,000 subscribers

# Private players to launch 3G by end of 2010 or early 2011

# Government earned over Rs 1 lakh crore from 3G and BWA auctions recently

The issue comes at a time when DoT is already in negotiations with Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of BlackBerry, for a solution to intercept BlackBerry data. Here, too, the security agencies had expressed concerns on their inability to do this. RIM has said it would make the PIN and IMEI numbers of individual BlackBerry phones and IP addresses of BlackBerry enterprise servers available to the security agencies. However, it said, the company does not have any access to the master key, as it is generated only by the customer.

The government had recently earned Rs 67,700 crore from the sale of 3G spectrum and Rs 38,500 crore from that of broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum. This was the first time an e-auction was conducted in India for spectrum. The 3G spectrum to private companies was to be allotted on September 1, with commercial launch possible by the end of this year or early next year.

First Published: Tue, August 10 2010. 00:08 IST
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