Operators to set up 60,000 telecom towers to curb call drops

By: | Updated: June 10, 2016 9:37 PM

Amid intense lobbying by mobile operators against giving more teeth to regulator Trai, Telecom Secretary J S Deepak today said penal powers cannot...

TRAI, Telecom department, telecom, Ravi Shankar PrasadCommunications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently said he has an open mind on empowering the telecom watchdog to impose penalties on operators for call drops and poor service quality, but will wait for a formal request.

Amid intense lobbying by mobile operators against giving more teeth to regulator Trai, Telecom Secretary J S Deepak today said penal powers cannot be “one and final solution” for call drop and the firms have committed Rs 12,000 crore to install new towers to check this problem.

After its earlier direction asking telecom firms to pay consumer for each dropped call was quashed by the Supreme Court, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has asked the government to amend laws to give it powers for imposing fine of up to Rs 10 crore on operators and jail term of up to two years for their executives.

Deepak said the government will “take a view” on Trai’s demand for more powers, but in his “personal opinion” a person cannot be sent to jail “for every call drop”.

Mobile operators, who had challenged Trai’s earlier direction on call drops before Supreme Court, are opposed to this idea as well and have termed such powers as ‘draconian’.

Responding to Trai’s demand, Deepak said, “Business as usual cannot happen (after this). I am not sure penal power will be one and final solution to this.

“In my personal opinion I do not agree that for every call drop a person has to be sent to jail. That’s my personal view. It is more sophisticated and more difficult. But we will take a view on what Trai has said.”

The secretary said that mobile operators have committed to install 60,000 towers to improve service quality.

“Government believes in the telecom sector. The quality of service must improve and industry has responsibility. They have committed 60,000 towers. Each tower cost about Rs 20 lakh which is around Rs 12,000 crore. The industry will make this investment in next three months,” Deepak told reporters after his first review meeting with industry players.

Representatives of all telecom operators, including Bharti Airtel chief for India and South Asia Gopal Vittal, Vodafone India head Sunil Sood, Idea Cellular CEO Himanshu Kapania and Reliance Jio Infocomm MD Sanjay Mashruwala, were present in the meeting.

Each operator presented his 100-day plan for improving service quality and raised issues hampering improvement in the networks.

Call drops have been a major concern for over a year now and the situation has failed to improve despite involvement at the top level for several past months.

Most of the mobile service providers have frequently failed in quarterly sample call drop tests conducted by Trai but operators have contested the results saying that they comply with benchmark set by the regulator.

In the roundtable meeting, operators raised issues such as regulatory hurdles by local authorities and opposition by residents associations to installation of mobile towers.

“All top CEOs have said they will set up war rooms to address this issue. I felt that the industry has realised that the negative customer sentiment is too high so investments will not be constrained. We need to work with them to facilitate installation of mobile towers,” Deepak said.

He said that 100 mobile towers will be installed in Delhi under 100-day action plan specially in problematic areas where call drop is high.

Deepak said that Urban Development department has decided to “amend bye-laws of Delhi Development Authority which will allow installation of mobile towers in residential area”.

After the meeting, Vodafone’s Sood said that it was a “very collaborative meeting to resolve industry issues”.

Telcom PSU BSNL was represented by its Chairman and Managing Director Anupam Shrivastava.

The secretary said that DoT is also working on a website to show radiation level being emitted from a mobile tower.

“We are coordinating with minister (Ravi Shankar Prasad) to launch portal on EMF (radiation) next month. This will give data of about 4.3 lakh mobile towers. People can go online and check if a tower is emitting radiation within limit or not so that citizens are aware that it not an issue,” Deepak said.

He said that the DoT has provided 80,000 SACFA clearance — a mandatory permit before installation of a mobile tower, in June which has reduced pending approval cases by almost half.

The industry raised issue of interference from Pakistan-based mobile networks in border areas because of which operators are unable to use spectrum.

“We are told that in Gujarat it has improved and continues to be problem in Punjab and Haryana. Pakistan has told Trai that the situation will be improved by July,” Deepak said.

He said that the if the industry buys all the spectrum that government is offering in the upcoming auction then there will be no shortage of spectrum even for “providing international quality of service” .

Government is planning to hold mega spectrum auction where airwaves worth Rs 5.66 lakh crore will be put for auction.

Leading telecom operators have requested the government to defer auction of 700 Mhz frequency band which alone accounts for about Rs 4 lakh crore.

This amount is almost double the cost of all spectrum investment to date in India and more than 20 times the annual free cash flow of the entire mobile industry in India, as per global telecom industry body GSMA.

Telecom Commission has approved Trai’s auction plan and the same will need cabinet approval.

The Telecom Secretary said that review meetings with the industry will be conducted every quarter.

He said that various pending issues have been resolved like spectrum sharing and trading and soon it will come up with guidelines for E-Know Your Customer norms linked with Aadhaar.

“The e-KYC norm is in advance stage of approval from Ministry of Home Affairs. We believe that it will be in place very soon,” Deepak said.

According to the proposal, customers having Aadhaar number biometrics like finger print or eyes will be scanned for verification and the SIM card will be activated immediately after authentication.

The process is also expected to reduce fake connections in the country and reduce penalty burden on telecom operators besides activating mobile connection in few minutes.

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