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Telegram to Launch Group Video Calling Feature in May

Telegram has announced that it will launch group video calls in May. The update is 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.

In the message, Durov 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-canceling, desktop and tablet support — everything you can expect from a modern video conferencing tool, but with Telegram-level UI, speed, and encryption. Stay tuned!”

While Telegram has often taunted rivals over their tardiness to add new features but it has lagged video calls. The app only added the ability to make one-on-one video calls last August. This came as a surprise as the company had suggested it would prioritize a launch of group video calls 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 $1 billion by selling bonds its earlier plan to monetize via a blockchain platform has hit the buffers in 2020.

Telegram’s late addition of group video calls almost halfway through 2021 instead of 2020, has allowed video conferencing platforms like Zoom to profit during the pandemic-fueled remote work environment.

Another big factor to consider in the implementation is the security of the video calls. Zoom has end-to-end encryption and also has designs on becoming a platform in its own right, with apps and a marketplace. 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 end-to-end encrypted there will be scrutiny over exactly how Telegram is doing it.

Durov also touted two recently launched web versions of Telegram adding that it’s currently testing “a functional version of web-based video calls internally, which will be added soon”. He said the Web 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.

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