call drops

In June, the Department of Telecommunications had suggested to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that operators should offer free minutes or credit to tackle the issue of frequent call drops. Accordingly, the telecom regulator asked operators to submit a plan of action to tackle call drops in July and started a consultation paper (pdf) in August.

According to the consultation paper, the regulator conducted Independent Drive Tests in the months of June and July in Delhi and Mumbai and found that call drop rate of most of the telecom service providers was higher than the benchmark of <=2%, set by the Authority.We look at some of the highlights and notes from the consultation paper:

More tests to check for call drops and disclosures

– TRAI is considering mandatory periodic disclosures for telecom operators on their network capacities and the steps taken to optimize their networks.

– In addition to this, TRAI is also conducting more Independent Drive Tests across the country. Here is a table which shows the call drop rates with six telecom operators in Delhi and Mumbai:

TSPs call drop

– Call drop rate of none of the providers except one in Delhi local service area (LSA) and Mumbai LSA was within the prescribed benchmark of <=2%.

Investment in network infrastructure

– TRAI also pointed out that telcos made investments in network infrastructure (other than radio spectrum) of only Rs 9,325 crore in 2013-14. TRAI said that during this period, the minutes of usage grew by 6.8% while investments in network infrastructure grew only by 4.6%

TRAI call drops 2

Incentive to increase call drops

– TRAI also looked into consumer stakeholders arguments that operators are incentivized to drop calls as they can charge customers more according to their tariff plans. Some consumers, who are on a per minute pulse billing, alleged that calls get dropped before completion of the conversation and they had to pay for a minute even though they only spoke for a second. The customer is then likely to re-attempt the call where they spend additional time in picking up the conversation from before. This would result in longer call duration and thereby greater call revenue to the telecom operator.

– Operators on the other hand contend that given the fact that there are seven to ten access service providers in each LSA and the facility of mobile number portability (MNP) is available to the consumers, no TSP would resort to such a malpractice at the cost of potential churn out of its (dissatisfied) consumer and erosion of its brand name in the market.

– Operators and their industry associations also say that most of the mobile consumers are on per-second-billing and therefore, a TSP gets no financial benefit when a call is dropped. Information furnished by the telecom companies to TRAI for the quarter ended March 2015 showed that 71% of mobile consumers across India were on per-second billing. However, only 59% of the total outgoing voice usage happened on a per-second basis.

– TRAI concluded the contention of the TSPs is only partly correct as about 41% of the total voice consumption happens on a per-minute-pulse in the country.

Proposals to protect consumers

–  One option proposed by TRAI to give relief to such consumers could be to mandate that any call which gets dropped within five seconds would not be charged. Further, it appears reasonable to mandate that, in case, a call gets dropped any time after five seconds, the last pulse of the call should not be included for the purpose of charging. Accordingly, this would mean:

(i) If a consumer is on a per-minute-pulse and his call gets dropped after 3 minutes and 45 seconds, call charges for only 3 minutes (and not 4 minutes) would be levied upon him; and

(ii) If a consumer is on a ‘2 second’ pulse and his call dropped after 31 seconds, call charges for only 30 seconds (and not 32 seconds) would be levied upon him, etc.

– Another way of giving consumer relief TRAI suggested is to provide credit to the consumers for dropped
calls. The regulator pointed out that an operator in India has a scheme for crediting talk-time in the event of call drops. The TSP provides an acknowledgement of call drop instantly to the subscriber whenever call drop occurs. Within 15 to 30 minutes, a free minute is credited in the account of the subscriber. The subscriber must consume the free minute within 24 hours from the time of credit in his/her account else it will elapse; the free minute can be used only on on-net calls.