DoT asks BSNL, MTNL to stop 3G services

Written by Rishi Raj | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 9 2009, 14:40pm hrs
Acting upon the directions of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) the department of telecommunications (DoT) has asked the two state-owned telecom service providers, BSNL and MTNL to stop providing 3G services till call monitoring services are made available to the intelligence agencies.

The 3G services provide for high speed data and video streaming and are distinct from the plain voice-based 2G services.

The decision to ask the two companies to stop providing the services till call monitoring facilities are not installed was taken at a meeting between the IB and DoT last week. According to sources, IB pointed out a decision taken in 2000 that for call interception the necessary equipments should be made available to the agency by the concerned telecom service providers with the cost being borne by the security agency.

Earlier, BSNL and MTNL had contended that the 3G network is capable of intercepting the calls and it was the responsibility of the security agencies to provide compatible equipments at the premises of the service providers with the cost being borne by the operators.

When contacted, BSNL officials told FE that they have complied with all the security concerns and will go ahead with providing the services. Officials said that there were discussions with the IB and accordingly they have installed LIM (lawful interception monitoring) equipments at their premises for the security agencies to monitor 3G calls.

How can we, as a government agency flout any security issues, a BSNL official said on conditions of anonymity.

While 2G call monitoring facility is available with the agencies, the problem comes in 3G services because of high data transfer.

Interestingly, BSNL and MTNL were exempt from bidding for 3G spectrum and were provided spectrum ahead of their private sector counterparts on the request of the security agencies when the 3G policy was being formulated. The security agencies had then argued that one slot should be reserved for the state-owned service providers because the government agencies find comfortable working with them due to security reasons.

Sources said that the lawful interception of calls in 3G services is similar to the controversy which arose early last year with regard to the push mail BlackBerry services. There also, the security agencies had woken up to the fact that theres no lawful interception available. This despite the services being offered by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone-Essar, and Reliance Communications while another operator, Tata Teleservices had sought permission to start the services.

After months of discussions between the DoT, security agencies and the service providers the matter got sorted out without much change in the original position.

As is known, the 3G spectrum auction has been deferred till the next fiscal until the group of ministers take a call on the nitty-grittys of the auction process. As a result no private sector operator can provide the services as on date.

However, the two state-owned PSUs were provided spectrum on the condition that they would pay the highest bid amount once auctions are conducted. As a result the two firms have got a years headstart over their competitors.