TRAI wants guidelines when operator stops mobile service

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Telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) has revealed its latest consultation paper on issues related to closure of mobile phone services in India.

The TRAI consultation paper follows several complaints from the mobile subscribers who said they did not receive adequate communication from their telecom service provider and their mobile number has been disconnected without any indication. “Losing one’s mobile number is a serious issue, which needs to be addressed,” said TRAI.

TRAI has cited three important instances. Reliance Communications stopped CDMA services and migrated to LTE. Due to this, millions of customers could not use their CDMA phones and did not have funds to buy new phones.

During the spectrum trading deals, companies tend to stop mobile services. Airtel acquired spectrum from Videocon and Aircel through trading deals.

In some occasions, telecom operators will not renew the spectrum and stop offering services in one particular area. Tata Docomo has lost subscribers due to non-renewal of spectrum in certain service areas.

When telecoms suspend service

UAS licence to Reliance Telecom in Assam, Bihar, Odisha, North-East and West Bengal expired on 11 December 2015. Reliance Telecom could not re-acquire 900 MHz spectrum in these service areas through auction and decided not to use spectrum acquired in the 1800 MHz band through auctions in North-East and West Bengal for deploying GSM technology.

As an alternative, Reliance Telecom offered services to its subscribers using 3G technology in 2100 MHz spectrum, acquired in 2010 auctions. Those subscribers, not willing to migrate to 3G technology, were left with no choice but to migrate to other service providers or closure of their services.

Reliance Communications decided to change the use of 800 MHz spectrum from CDMA technology to LTE technology in some service areas. Subscribers, who were not willing to migrate to LTE technology, were left with no choice but to either migrate to other Service Provider or close their services. Other subscribers, who opted to remain with RCOM with upgraded technology, were required to have a handset with LTE capability.

Sistema Shyam Teleservices with MTS brand had ICR-arrangement with Reliance to provide CDMA services in areas. Since Reliance Communications closed down its CDMA service consequent upon migrating its subscribers to LTE technology, MTS found it difficult to serve its CDMA subscribers in certain parts of the country and sought permission to close its CDMA services in a few districts.

Issues for Consultation

Is there a need for modification of the UASL and CMTS licences in line with Clause 30.3 (b) of UL, for those licensees who have liberalized their administratively allocated spectrum?

Should discontinuation of services being provided through a particular technology, say CDMA, be treated same as discontinuation of any of the service under a Service Authorisation as per Clause 30.3(b) of UL?

Is there a need to define a time-limit for DoT to take into its records the prior intimation given by TSPs regarding the spectrum trading?

Should the advance notice period to subscribers’ be enhanced from 30 days period to say, 60 days, in case of closure of services so that a subscriber has sufficient time to consume his talktime balance?

If a TSP is selling its entire spectrum in the LSA and intends to discontinue its access services being provided to its subscribers, should the TSP give the 60 days’ advance notice to Licensor, TRAI and its subscribers, only after the spectrum trading is acknowledged by DoT/WPC?

What mechanism should be put in place to ensure that subscribers are informed about the closure of services / change of access technology transparently and effectively by the TSPs?

Should TSPs be directed to follow a specified mode of communication(s) as detailed in para 30 for informing subscribers or what could be other mode of communications?

Will it be appropriate that the responsibility of verification of time-period elapsed since the last porting (i.e. 90 days period) be shifted from MNPSP to the Donor Operator so that subscribers’ port-out requests are accepted irrespective of his age on network in case of closure of services?

In case a TSP changes the access services technology and asks his subscribers to migrate to newer technology, should the tariff protection, carry-over of unused talk-time balance and benefits be extended to such subscribers upon migration to new technology for the contracted period?

How much time period should be given to the subscribers to port-out after closure of commercial services i.e. for how long the system should remain active to facilitate porting? Should the validity of the UPC in such cases coincide with such time period?

What other changes should be made in the MNP Regulation to ensure smooth bulk porting-out of the subscribers in the event of closure of access services or change of access technology by any TSP?

Will it be appropriate that the change of technology within a licensee be removed from the definition of MNP?

Is there a need for an alternative mechanism to MNP for bulk transfer of subscribers from one TSP to other TSP(s)?

Should a TSP be allowed to transfer its subscribers, who have not been able to port-out to other TSPs before closure of service, to another TSP whenever the services being rendered by that TSP are going to be discontinued? What can be associated issues and challenges?

TRAI wants written comments on the Consultation Paper from the stakeholders by 9 January 2017 and counter-comments by 16 January 2017.

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