Top telecom companies Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio have committed to pump in over Rs 74,000 crore into upgrading infrastructure to fix the problem of call drops plaguing the sector, telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said on Tuesday. A stressed telecom sector has been pulled up for the deteriorating quality of calls, despite the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) new service quality rules implemented in October.
The country's largest telecom firm Bharti Airtel said it will invest Rs 24,000 crore on infrastructure, Sundararajan said after a meeting with the top management of the company. She said the Sunil Mittal-led firm has already invested Rs 16,000 crore to improve its infrastructure. "Reliance Jio has said that they will invest Rs 50,000 crore in installing 1 lakh towers in the coming financial year." Idea Cellular and Vodafone have also committed to increasing mobile towers in their network, she said.
The lack of space to install mobile towers was among the many issues that the firms have flagged, Sundararajan disclosed. Based on their analysis of call drops, the firms have highlighted that nearly 400 callers use a mobile tower at a time in India, while in countries like China the average figure is 200-300, she said. "They are now discussing with equipment makers to handle this kind of issue." Their analysis showed that the number of call drops has stabilised, but problems like fading of voice call have increased due to various issues, including some mobile phones not complying with required certification norms, she said.
Leading telecom operators pointed out that call drop problems are more in mobile phones without a 'Global Conformity Framework' certificate compared to certified devices, she said. They also said illegal repeaters installed in networks are creating interference and affecting the call quality. "We will look into enforcing rules more stringently," Sundararajan said. The vigilance arm of the Department of Telecom (DoT) will look into issues of non-compliance raised by mobile service providers.
Sundararajan said telecom operators pointed out that data usage has grown 6-7 times and continues to grow 20-25 per cent every month but they were surprised to see two-times growth in voice traffic which has increase the load on networks. Telecom operators said they are scaling up investment in infrastructure to cater to growth in the traffic, she said.
The issue of service quality has been plaguing the telecom sector over the past few years, with the latest TRAI rules levying a penalty of up to Rs 10 lakh for call drops. Under the new Quality of Service (QoS) formula, which came into effect on October 1, call drops will be measured at the mobile-tower level instead of telecom-circle level. December quarter will see the first instance of reporting under it. The rule was framed after an attempt by the regulator in 2016 to get operators to compensate users Rs 1 for every call drop. However, the Supreme Court struck it down. Over the past few quarters, the telecom department held a series of meetings with telecom firms, asking them to take steps at once such as setting up more mobile towers across the country to improve call quality.
This also comes amid a debilitating financial period for the telecom sector as the firms have been forced to join a tariff war as new entrant Reliance Jio has disrupted the space with free voice and dirt-cheap data offers. Further, TRAI had decided to cut Interconnect Usage Charge (IUC) starting October 1, 2017 from 14 paise to 6 paise. The charge, paid by a telecom operator that generates a call to the network that receives it, is a revenue generator for that company. A reduction would lead to loss in that net revenue.
The financial pressure on these firms is set to mount with the regulator deciding to slash international incoming call termination rate to 30 paise from 53 paise from February 1. Telecom firms levy termination charge on operators from whose networks calls have been made, for transmitting them to the subscriber.
Trai's decision will mean that the margin from incoming international calls for these telecom operators will drop from next month. Incumbent telecom players have either seen a sharp decline in quarterly net profits or seen the losses widen after the fierce price war launched by Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio.