Thursday 27 December 2012

BBM 7 with BBM Voice should be available in India soon

While BBM 7.0 with BBM Voice is not available in India currently, some indicators show it should be available in India very soon—within the next few weeks, what with the impending launch of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion's (RIM) do-or-die OS BlackBerry 10 on January 30 and the expected operationalisation of the New Telecom Policy 2012 that liberalises India's telecom policy regime.

RIM’s latest goof-up in India had been BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) 7.0 with Voice. In mid-November, Indian news media carried global releases giving news about the beta release of BBM 7 that featured BBM Voice, which allowed free calling over Wi-Fi to other BBM users who also have BBM 7 installed and are connected to Wi-Fi. RIM goofed up by not clarifying that the Beta wasn't available in India, thanks to regulatory concerns, and made things worse by inviting Indian BlackBerry users over e-mail to try BBM 7.0 Beta when it wasn't even available here.

While BBM 7 has gone from Beta to final release in a period of less than a month, with the final version released in early December, RIM has refused to comment on when BBM 7.0 with voice would be released in India. All a RIM spokesperson would say was, "We are currently understanding the policy framework and guidelines applicable in India regarding Voice Communications through Instant Messaging Solutions. Since BBM Voice uses BBM as an IM tool, we will launch the same in India, as soon as we have gained clarity on the policy guidelines applicable in India for such IM Voice services."

The issue clearly seems to be that of Voice-over-IP and whether Indian norms allow such communication. While there are other apps such as Viber and Skype that allow similar voice features over IM, RIM is understandably wary because the Indian government has a history of waking up well after a service is established and deciding it is illegal. Remember Push to Talk that some mobile operators offered? Or the current 3G imbroglio where it has been decreed that operators cannot allow 3G roaming, and which will have to be decided by the courts?

RIM also has more reason to worry considering it has been in the Indian government's crosshairs over the past few years with the Indian government insisting that BES mail encryption keys should be made available to Indian security agencies, despite RIM protesting that even they did not have access to this and only enterprise customers had the keys.

According to one expert, while PC-to-PC VoIP (voice calls originating and terminating at IP end points) is legal in India, calls originating from an IP phone and terminating on a foreign phone is legal only when done via licensed operator and calls originating from an IP phone in India and terminating on an Indian telephone is currently illegal, but should be allowed by the New Telecom Policy 2012, which was approved recently.

While RIM seems to be awaiting clarity and may be speaking to the government and legal experts, it should be possible for RIM to launch BBM 7.0 in India soon with the New Telecom Policy 2012 liberalising the Indian telecom policy regime. Besides, there's another big reason why it has to be done soon. BlackBerry's all-new, do-or-die OS BB10 is scheduled for a global launch on January 30. While there are no indicators if India will be among the launch markets, RIM executives have said that even if India were not a global launch market, BB10 should be in India within a few weeks of global launch.

BBM 7.0 will be baked into BB10 and unlike the current scenario, where the company is not making BBM 7.0 available with OS 7.1 and below devices in India, it won't be able to do so with BB10, considering earlier versions of BBM may not work with BB10. Also, BBM Voice is a key highlight of BB10 and it's pretty much an open secret that free video calling over Wi-Fi will come with BBM at launch with BB10, though no RIM executive is willing to go on record on the matter.

If the Indian voice over IM scenario is not clarified by them, RIM's BB10 launch in India will be headed for disaster—with a key capability missing. Hence, it's clear that RIM will take a decision on BBM 7.0 with Voice soon and should be making it available at the earliest.

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