Fe Exclusive : DoT mulls variant of ‘name & shame’

By: | Updated: August 27, 2015 10:06 AM

Telcos to issue capacity-subscriber figures

Call dropSources said DoT is going to write to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to ask operators to disclose to consumers, government and the regulator how many subscribers their infrastructure and allied capacity can serve, circle-wise. (Reuters)

With call drops developing into a national problem — so much so even PM Narendra Modi has expressed concern — the department of telecommunications is looking at fixing it in a novel manner. The latest brainwave is to make it mandatory for operators to make disclosures that officials believe would help consumers choose operators where the incidence of calls drops is likely to be less as well as build competitive pressure on telcos to improve services. The thinking is that if operators share such statistics with customers, which amounts to stating that “my capacity is full and I have no room for any more consumers”, it would force telcos to optimise resources and check the problem.

Sources said DoT is going to write to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to ask operators to disclose to consumers, government and the regulator how many subscribers their infrastructure and allied capacity can serve, circle-wise.

Simply put, an operator would have to say that in a circle like Delhi it has the capacity to serve only around 5 million subscribers but has double the number. Or another operator could discloses it has a capacity for 5 million users but has only 3 million on its network.

The assumption is that if consumers are made aware of such details they would naturally opt for service providers that are not bursting at their seams. Similarly, the assumption is also that in a hyper-competitive market like telecom, operators having subscribers twice their capacity cannot simply put a sign stating “no room”, and would naturally do their best to assure subscribers that they would ensure no call drops.

“The proposal is at a nascent stage. We need to write to Trai. They need to devise a methodology by which it can be measured what is the kind of infrastructure in terms of spectrum, towers, etc, an operator needs to serve a certain number of subscribers,” an official told FE.

Trai is already working on a consultation paper on call drops and measures to disincetivise it , and is likely to incorporate this aspect also in it, the official added.

Operators and industry analysts FE spoke to regarding the proposed move said it would be difficult for DoT to keep verifying the authenticity of the claims of the operators. However, some said that the move would be welcome as it gives the operators the chance to communicate to the subscribers that it is not they but the government which is at fault.

The phenomenon of call drops has assumed proportions where operators and the government have collided head on, blaming each other for it.

While the industry says lack of spectrum and inadequate telecom towers (sites) are the reason for call drops, the government says operators need to optimise their resources.

On Tuesday Modi too voiced his serious concern over call drops and directed officials to resolve the issue on an urgent basis as it directly affected the common man, and also asked them to ensure the problems in voice connectivity do not extend to data connectivity in the future. This was followed by telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stating that telecom companies have to find a solution as the call drop problem has become serious in past three to four months. He said telcos are not doing enough to reduce call drops. He also reiterated that telecom companies must optimise their networks, even as he promised full support on the policy front, including on installation of towers.

On Wednesday, Gopal Vittal, CEO and MD, Bharti Airtel (India & South Asia), thanked the minister for extending support on the policy front. “We are grateful to the minster of communications and IT for his encouraging comments on the contributions made by the telecom industry to enhance mobile connectivity across the country, and also for his concerns on the various issues facing the industry. We would like to thank him for his comments regarding the impact of mobile towers and radio waves as this will go a long way in clarifying various myths and misconceptions surrounding the issue,” Vittal said in a statement.

Towering problem:

* Call drops are rising because number of towers are dwindling
* There are only 34,000 towers in Delhi whereas at least 50,000 is required
* On All-India basis 625,000 towers are required but we have only 550,000
* Reason for less towers is that there’s a perception that it is a health hazard
* Wherever towers are located, owners are not renewing leases
* Civic agencies have cumbersome process to grant approvals
* Average per operator spectrum holding too low at 12-15 MHz against 40-45 MHz in developed nations

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