Call interception issues led to STel service halt request?

10 Mar 2010

Following revelations earlier this week that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had directed new mobile operator STel, a joint venture between Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco) and Chennai-based Siva Group, to halt services in the three circles it has launched in, the Economic Times claims that the government has clarified the reason for its action. According to the local news provider, citing sources at the MHA, while the ministry initially only indicated that the move had been prompted by security concerns, it is now understood there are claims that STel has not installed a required mechanism for the interception of calls. A spokesman for STel has, however, refuted such claims, noting: ‘We do have approved lawful interception certificates from the Department of Telecommunications through [a] letter dated 11 December and 12 December of last year which conveyed the clean approval to commence voice and SMS service in Himachal Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar.’

Initial reports on the matter had also suggested that the government’s decision to call for the suspension of service may have been aimed at forcing STel to reconsider its upcoming legal case, in which it claims that the Ministry of Communications acted with bias when allocating 2G licences in 2008. According to recent developments it appears that the tactic may be working, with the Economic Times also reporting today that STel has hinted that it may not seek concessions for the 16 circles which it is not currently licensed for. While executives at the cellco declined to comment on the reversal of their stance, according to a communication to the DoT, STel said that it is revisiting its licence acquisition strategy as a result of multiple factors, including hyper-competition and the fact that a number of existing operators have yet to be allocated spectrum. ‘For these reasons we have to revisit our business strategy for the said 16 circles and decide on partaking in the business of providing service, either in all or a chosen few of the said 16 circles,’ the cellco’s communication to the regulator noted.