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Telco war: Sunil Bharti Mittal meets Trai chief over inter-connect row

While Jio continues to accuse dominant incumbent operators, including Airtel, of providing far less than adequate points of inter-connections (PoIs) needed for its users to complete a call to a rival network, Mittal said his company is providing interconnectivity ports and is on the cusp of augmenting the capacity further.

By: | Updated: September 21, 2016 8:20 PM
With less than 10 days to go before the mega spectrum auction kicks off, Mittal termed 700 mHz band as "very expensive", but declined to divulge whether it will bid for the band. (Reuters) With less than 10 days to go before the mega spectrum auction kicks off, Mittal termed 700 mHz band as “very expensive”, but declined to divulge whether it will bid for the band. (Reuters)

Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal today met Trai Chairman R S Sharma to explain his side of story on the ongoing war of words with new entrant Reliance Jio over providing network connectivity. While Jio continues to accuse dominant incumbent operators, including Airtel, of providing far less than adequate points of inter-connections (PoIs) needed for its users to complete a call to a rival network, Mittal said his company is providing interconnectivity ports and is on the cusp of augmenting the capacity further.

“PoIs are being opened at a fast pace… About 2,100 points of inter-connect (PoIs) have already been given and demand note for another 1,000 PoIs has gone out yesterday so the process is going on…,” he said after the meeting.

“The PoIs which we have given and those that are being given and will be commissioned over few days, can serve 25-32 million customers.”

Mittal, who heads India’s largest mobile company by subscriber base, expressed hope that the issue will get sorted out over the next few days or weeks.

“There are testing processes, demand notes are sent, payments are made… things are going on,” he explained.

While Mittal declined to comment on the details of his meeting with Sharma, sources told PTI that the Bharti chief has communicated that it is not company’s intent to fight competition through inter-connectivity issue, but in the market.

The company is also learnt to have informed the regulator that it will ensure no congestion occurs at the inter-connectivity points. The company, the sources said, has also communicated its willingness to augment capacity at the PoIs.

Inter-connection enables mobile users to make calls to customers of other telecom networks and is, therefore, crucial for smooth functioning of mobile service.

The meeting comes at a time when a corporate battle is raging, with the “disruptive” entry of Reliance Jio. The incumbent operators — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea — on one side and the new entrant Reliance Jio on the other have been engaged in a high-decibel and bitter exchange of words over issues of interconnectivity and number portability.

Asked about the verbal fight, Mittal said, “I think we have de-escalated it… Everyone is talking to everyone. More meetings are going on.”

On whether he would be open to another meeting with Mukesh Ambani to resolve outstanding issues between their telecom companies, Mittal said, “As far as Mukesh Ambani and I are concerned, we meet very regularly.”

Asked whether he raised the issue of predatory pricing with the regulator, Mittal replied in the negative.

Dismissing the perception that predatory prices cannot be practised by new players, he said, “No… Predatory prices, anyone with big balancesheet can do… we are not predatory.”

Playing down Reliance Jio’s allegation that existing operators are refusing mobile number portability requests, Mittal said, “The portability issue pertains to 60-70 cases. I don’t know what is causing the delay or the reason… 60-70 applications pertaining to portability will be resolved.”

On competitive pressure from Jio’s free voice and cheap data offerings, Mittal said his teams will decide and “respond appropriately”.

Reliance Jio — which commercially launched its services on September 5 — has accused the existing players of not releasing sufficient inter-connection points while operators have charged the new entrant of unleashing a “tsunami” of free traffic on their networks.

After Trai’s nudge, the operators agreed to augment capacity on their networks to accommodate more Jio traffic, but have been seeking regulatory intervention to address the issue of “induced asymmetry of traffic”.

Jio, on the other hand, argues that benefits of superior voice technology is being denied to its customers due to the network congestion and has blamed the “anti-competitive behaviour of incumbent operators” for the “poor experience” on its services.

Jio has claimed that it has been witnessing 75-80 per cent call failures over the last few weeks. It had said that over a period of 10 days alone, 52 crore calls failed cumulatively on the networks of the three incumbent operators Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.

 

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