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Spokn Launches Symbian App; How It Bypasses The Middle East VoIP Ban

spokn_logoGeodesic‘s VoIP service, Spokn, has launched an app for Nokia Series 60 (Symbian) phones, enabling users of the mobile platform, to use the service. The app is pretty bare bones, a mobile dialer that the company licensed from a developer, however, it supports outgoing calls on WiFi, 3G and EDGE networks. It can also run in the background, enabling users to receive incoming calls. Since the service is based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), it was possible to access it natively by keying-in the settings on symbian phones, even without an app, but the app makes it a little simpler. Note that the Symbian client is Obfuscated-VoIP capable, and works in the Middle East, where VoIP is restricted.

Spokn competes with the likes of  SkypeNet2PhoneVonageImpetusNovanet and Yahoo Voice. The company is based out of Singapore and has inked interconnect agreements with International Long Distance providers across the globe – and Spokn calls are routed through their networks. The company offers VoIP clients for Mac OS, iOS, Java BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, and O-VoIP (Obfuscated VoIP) clients for Windows(PC), Android and Nokia Series 60.

Obfuscated- VoIP: Spokn has also devised a way out for users in UAE,Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and other countries in the Middle-East, where VoIP calling has been blocked by ISPs, to offer unrestricted access. The company says, on its blog, that it has deployed Obfuscated VoIP, where-in its dialers can bypass IP and Port level blocking by the ISPs, automatically locating and communicating with Spokn servers, as it makes VoIP traffic look different so that the rules that the ISPs have implemented on their firewalls don’t catch its VoIP data.

It has also set-up sites on domains that are not blocked – such as Google, here – to offer dialer downloads, in addition to integrating top-up payments with the native PC dialer. According to the company, VoIP services have been banned in the Middle East to safeguard revenues for telecom companies from international calls.

Security concerns: Although, this capability would give it an edge over other players, since it would be difficult to impose a ban on the service, it could also be a security concern. There have been concerns around VoIP services, and in 2009, India’s Intelligence Bureau had asked the Department of Telecom (DoT) to block VoIP services to and from the country, until a mechanism has been put into place to track these calls.

At a recent Conference on Mobile Law in Delhi, IPS officer Aditya Mishra had explained how Internet Telephony was a cause for concern for security agencies, given that it was extremely difficult to trace the source of the calls, even though IP allows for recovery of all call related information, including call recordings. He had given the example of the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks, who had used a VoIP based service.

Confusion on the exact Internet Telephony policy remained, even as the Department of Telecom issued orders to block foreign SIP (Session Initiation Protocols) to various ISPs. We had retrieved a list of the foreign SIPs blocked via RTI: here, and the applicable policy on Internet Telephony, which everyone we spoke with appeared to be confused about (and still are): here.

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How VoIP Was Used For The Mumbai Terrorist Attacks: Aditya Mishra, IPS
– Do You Need Permission For A Skype Call To India?
– The Internet Telephony Policy Applicable In India – (via RTI)

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