Google has launched a video calling app named Duo that will connect users via their mobile phone numbers. The app is currently live on Android and iOS, and will have all conversations secured with end-to-end encryption. The app currently not live in India; Play Store however provides a ‘pre-register’ option for India users, indicating that it could be launched sooner.
Google claims that video calls will work on slower networks as well, since the call quality will automatically adjust according to network connection strength, and according to network type: mobile data or WiFi. This feature will assure that cat call remains connected without dropping due to poor network, according to Google. This was borrowed from Google Hangouts, which currently allows users to manually set call quality.
A feature dubbed ‘Knock Knock’ which lets users glance into a live video stream of the incoming caller even before you actually answer the call. This according Google will “give you a sense of what they’re up to and why they want to chat.”
A video explaining how ‘Knock Knock’ works:
Duo users need not create a new Google account to sign up for the service, they simply need to choose a username and the app will identify a user based on their mobile numbers. With this, Google is directly looking to compete with services like WhatsApp, which rolled out video-calling feature in May and has reportedly crossed 1 billion Monthly Active Users (MAUs) in February. Facebook’s standalone messenger service crossed 1 billion MAUs in July, and had already rolled out video calling feature in April 2015.
Apple’s standalone video calling app Facetime allows users to make video calls across all devices with a camera: iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Macs. Google has made it clear about plans to take on FaceTime, by making Duo available for all iOS users. Microsoft’s cross platform video calling service Skype recently crossed 300 million MAUs in March.
Implications in India
Voice on all of these messaging services are hosted via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and in India the telecom regulator TRAI recently suggested regulating VoIP apps like Skype and WhatsApp under Calling-Party-Pays (CPP), which is applicable to telecom services. Telecom operators have however expressed displeasure over this while referring to VoIP and Internet Telephony servicesas “niche and largely unknown”, while stating that TRAI is looking to regulate these without setting the routing and numbering framework.
Telecom lobby body COAI had also cried foul over Jio’s test network rollout that apparently has on-boarded 1.5 million test users; Jio had earlier expressed interests to host voice calls entirely on VoLTE technology. Note that current regulations require telcos and other service providers on 4G networks to re-direct calls via 2G or 3G networks, and not on 4G, since it runs on VoLTE i.e voice handled via an IP-based network, as pointed by TRAI in a recent consultation.
This wasn’t the first time that India’s telecom operators expressed concerned over VoIP calling. A DoT amendment in April looked to change VoIP calling in India by allowing VoIP & VoLTE (Voice over LTE) users to make and receive calls to and from any non-IP based networks and vice-versa. However, telcos demand that VoIP apps should be regulated: In May, the COAI, said in a letter to TRAI that VoIP apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype are violating the existing telecom licensing regime and are merely riding over networks owned by telecom companies.
Earlier, COAI requested the DoT in a letter to stop operators from routing telephone calls over the internet, stating that app-based VoIP calls breach telecom license conditions; poses security risks and could generate losses to the national exchequer.