Sci & Tech

Iran Mobile Operators, Telecom Ministry Keep Eye on OTT Calling

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Iran’s network operators are preparing themselves for a drop in calling revenue with the new call feature
Telegram calling is believed to be secure according to the company.Telegram calling is believed to be secure according to the company.
An estimated 45 million people in Iran actively use the Telegram app

Mahmoud Vaezi, the minister of telecommunications and information technology, says the ministry is studying the possible launch of Telegram calls in Iran.

Telegram, the most popular messaging app in the country with millions of users, launched its Over-the-Top (OTT) voice calling service on March 30 in western Europe, but the service is yet to be launched in Iran and other Asian states, ICTNA reported.

OTT service providers deliver audio, video and other media over the internet and bypass the traditional operators' network.

Since OTT players do not require any business or technology affiliations with network operators for providing such services, they are often known by the term "Over-The-Top" (OTT) applications.

The OTT providers do not contribute directly to the telecom revenues; however, their services can only be used by users who have an Internet subscription, which gives operators a boost in revenues.

On Wednesday Vaezi said, “Telegram officials and the government are in talks about the planned launch of the service in Iran. The primary concern is its inevitable and enormous impact on the business of Iranian mobile network operators.”

According to the minister, a special task force is studying the impact of the new service.

“The administration supports access to and promotion of modern technology and Internet based calls are no exception."

He added that other apps (namely WhatsApp and IMO) are offering the voice service in Iran.

Financial Tribune contacted Telegram's head of support, Markus Ra, for confirmation on the report but the company representative failed to respond.

Iranian mobile operators are apparently reluctant about the launch of the Telegram call service and the negative impact it will have on their revenues.

>Billions in Local Investment

Vaezi said, “The major Iranian mobile operators [MTN-Irancell, MCI and RighTel] recently invested 190 trillion rials ($5 billion) for the nationwide launch of the third generation (3G) and fourth generation (4G) mobile Internet services.”

Using OTT services will increase operators' earnings from Internet services, but they continue to be wary of losing a huge bulk of their income from phone calls and SMS.

No figure has been released by the operators or the government on the anticipated impact of OTT services over the next few years.

Vaezi says “The government will not compel operators to launch the service if they deem it unprofitable.”

>Secure Calling

According to the Telegram team, the security aspect of voice calls is based on the end-to-end encryption of the Secret Chats feature.

With Secret Chats, after an end-to-end connection has been established. users can then compare this image with the one seen by the other person chatting with on his/her device.

If the two images are the same, then the chat is secured against so-called 'man-in-the-middle' attacks.

For Telegram’s encrypted voice calls, the key exchange mechanism is slightly different in procedure.

Instead of comparing complex images or long passcodes, users compare four emojis over the phone. If the emojis match on both ends, then the company says the line is secure.

Emojis are ideograms and 'smileys' used in electronic messages and web pages.

According to Telegram Corp. calls are made over a 'peer-to-peer' connection whenever possible, “using the best audio codecs to save traffic while providing crystal-clear quality.” If a peer-to-peer connection cannot be established, calls will instead be connected through the server closest to the user.

A codec is a device or program that compresses data to enable faster transmission and decompresses received data.

>Top of the Form

A recent study conducted in Iran revealed that six out of ten people actively used social media with Telegram in the lead. An estimated 45 million Iranians use the app.

The study was conducted in the month ending February 18 by Iranian Student Polling Agency affiliated to the Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research or  'Jihad Daneshgahi', a subsidiary of the non-government Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.

It found that of social media platforms used in Iran, Telegram messenger has the largest share at 55%.

Telegram goes beyond simple messaging and also hosts 'channels' and groups which companies and cohorts discuss the latest topics, products and news among other things.

The Telecoms Ministry data indicates that at least 100,000 Iranian channels are operating on Telegram uploading 1.2 million posts on a daily basis.


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