Is telecom minister Manoj Sinha serious about call drops?

Call drop – mainly due to inadequate investment in telecom infrastructure and lack of support from the government — is not a new development for the 900 million mobile subscribers across India.

The growing urban and rural population, who will be increasingly relying on phone access for gaining from their business, entertainment and connectivity, is looking for high quality mobile services across India. Call drops happen in homes, offices, highways, railway tracks, vehicles, etc. despite making investment in networks.

Searching for a proper signal available in our homes before making the call is resulting into too much frustration among Indians. The fact that the entire world is moving to HD calls at a time when India is still trying to decrease call drops is a shame for the decision makers in the telecom industry.

Telecommunications Minister Manoj Sinha says a new technology platform will be deployed under a month, enabling mobile phone users to register feedback on call drops. TRAI and DoT have invested adequate time to reduce unwanted SMS and calls on Indian’s phones. Did it assist Indians? We argue that Manoj Sinha is currently clueless about a proper solution to remove call drop issue.

COAI, the telecom industry body of GSM operators, is celebrating its new milestone by announcing that the industry had set up about 129,101 BTS, doubling the target of 60,000, in four months. The telecom industry had committed Rs 12,000 crore for adding more cell sites. COAI did not reveal the size of the investment for adding 129,101 BTS. The original plan was to spend Rs 12,000 crore for 60,000 cell sites.

Indian telecom operators have 13,45,470 cell sites by making an investment of close to Rs 8,50,00 crore.

China Mobile spends 33 percent of its revenue on Capex against the global average of between 12 – 18 percent. Indian telecoms made investment of roughly $4 billion in telecom infrastructure during 2014 – 2015. For comparison, China Mobile spent $35 billion in the same period.

Airtel installed 22,000 BTS, Idea Cellular added 25,382 BTS and Vodafone added 13,870, alongside Reliance Jio, not under the 100-day plan, setting up 35,000 BTS.

ALSO READ: Communications Minister to meet telcos over call drop on Nov 1

Unfolding call drops

The advent of Reliance Jio added a significant bit to the prevailing call drop issue. Even before that, the matter has been a hot topic among the telecom biz and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

It was highlighted in October 2015, when the Indian regulator asked carriers to compensate users for call drops. Ever since, the discussions between the telecom world and TRAI have undergone many stages. Finally, TRAI lost a huge case against telecom operators.

Beginning from accusations that telecoms make huge profits from call drops, TRAI has asked service provider to credit the calling user by one rupee for each call drop within its network for a maximum of three call drops per day, on October 16, 2015.

The telecom groups revealed that the Capex have seen a 300 percent increase in capital investments in the country with Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular making investment of Rs 81,528 crore, Rs 78,555 crore and Rs 65,019 crore, respectively.

Also it was stated that the investment by telecoms has multiplied 22 percent times in the last four years.

Telecoms also added that the spectrum investment went up from 10 percent of net Capex to over 45 percent, from 2010 to 2015.

Indian mobile operators claimed that they were unable to enhance QoS parameters owing to multiple technical factors, the lack of adequate spectrum and challenges in setting up new mobile towers.

Following call drop reports of more than the TRAI-mandated 2 percent in Delhi and adjacent areas, Delhi Development Authority announced an amendment to withdraw rules prohibiting installation of mobile towers in residential areas, to support telecoms to install more BTSs.

Telecoms say over 2 lakh cell sites added in were the past 15 months with an investment of Rs 8.5 lakh crore.

In July 2016 telecom operators committed to install 1 lakh towers in a year, investing about Rs 20,000 crore, and sought more spectrum from the government.

RELATED: Telecoms set up 129,101 BTS in 4 months to reduce call drop

The latest spectrum auction, which mobilized Rs 65789.12 crore, led by Vodafone and Airtel, trailed by Reliance Jio and Idea Cellular, is expected to boost network coverage. This ensured that users will be relieved to an extent from call drops, with spectrum shortage being a main cause leading to the issue.

No escape from call drops

While October-December 2015 saw 54 out of 195 2G networks not meeting QoS standards, the figure fell to 19 by June 2016 owing to all measures taken by both regulator and carriers alike.

Reliance Jio announcing welcome offer with free calls and data will force telecom users of rival operators to enhance QoS. The welcome offer enhanced call drops, due to increasing traffic on Jio 4G network and issues related to insufficient interconnect points between Jio and other incumbent operators.

After TRAI intervention, call failures between Jio and Airtel networks is now down to 56 percent of net calls from reported 73 percent on September 23, and is 62 percent with Idea Cellular.

The question now is will the combined efforts of TRAI and operators actually cut down the issue of call drops in India, by when and by how much.

Image caption: Telecom minister Manoj Sinha and DoT secretary JS Deepak

Vina Krishnan
[email protected]