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Telegram to add group video calls next month

Natasha Lomas
·3-min read

Group video calls will be coming to Telegram's messaging platform next month with what's being touted as a fully featured implementation, including support for web-based videoconferencing.

Founder Pavel Durov made the announcement via a (text) message posted to his official Telegram channel today where he wrote "we will be adding a video dimension to our voice chats in May, making Telegram a powerful platform for group video calls".

"Screen sharing, encryption, noise-cancelling, desktop and tablet support -- everything you can expect from a modern video conferencing tool, but with Telegram-level UI, speed and encryption. Stay tuned!" he added, using the sorts of phrases you'd expect from an enterprise software maker.

Telegram often taunts rivals over their tardiness to add new features but on video calls it has been a laggard, only adding the ability to make one-on-one video calls last August -- rather than prioritizing a launch of group video calls, as it had suggested it would a few months earlier.

In an April 2020 blog post, to mark passing 400M users, it wrote that the global lockdown had "highlighted the need for a trusted video communication tool" -- going on to dub video calls in 2020 "much like messaging in 2013".

However it also emphasized the importance of security for group video calling -- and that's perhaps what's caused the delay.

(Another possibility is the operational distraction of needing to raise a large chunk of debt financing to keep funding development: Last month Telegram announced it had raised over $1BN by selling bonds -- its earlier plan to monetize via a blockchain platform having hit the buffers in 2020.)

In the event, rather than rolling out group video calls towards the latter end of 2020 it's going to be doing so almost half way through 2021 -- which has left videoconferencing platforms like Zoom to keep cleaning up during the pandemic-fuelled remote work and play boom (even as 'Zoom fatigue' has been added to our lexicon).

How secure Telegram's implementation of group video calls will be, though, is an open question.

Durov's post mades repeat mention of "encryption" -- perhaps to make a subtle dig at Zoom's own messy security claims history -- but doesn't specify whether it will use end-to-end encryption (we've asked).

Meanwhile Zoom does now offer e2e -- and also has designs on becoming a platform in its own right, with apps and a marketplace, so there are a number of shifts in the comms landscape that could see the videoconferencing giant making deeper incursions into Telegram's social messaging territory.

The one-to-one video calls Telegram launched last year were rolled out with its own e2e encryption -- so presumably it will be replicating that approach for group calls.

However the MTProto encryption Telegram uses is custom-designed -- and there's been plenty of debate among cryptography experts over the soundness of its approach. So even if group calls are e2e encrypted there will be scrutiny over exactly how Telegram is doing it.

Also today, Durov touted two recently launched web versions of Telegram (not the first such versions by a long chalk, though) -- adding that it's currently testing "a functional version of web-based video calls internally, which will be added soon".

He said the Webk and Webz versions of the web app are "by far the most cross-platform versions of Telegram we shipped so far", and noting that no downloads or installs are required to access your chats via the browser.

"This is particularly good for corporate environments where installing native apps is now always allowed, but also good for users who like the instant nature of web sites," he added, with another little nod toward enterprise users.