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This interconnection battle between Reliance Jio and other telcos…

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…is getting annoying, and beyond a point, the government and the TRAI need to step in, in consumer interest. Interconnection is the regime which allows the users of one telecom operator to call those from another telecom operator. If at times you get the message that “all lines in this route are busy, please dial after some time”, it is typically because there aren’t sufficient interconnection points between the two operators within that circle.

Do we even need interconnection?

Without adequate interconnection, most users will only be able to connect with customers of their telecom operator, which means that they might be forced to keep multiple SIM cards, or gravitate towards telecom operators where there are favorable interconnection agreements.

Why is this happening?

– It’s possible that incumbent telecom operators are either not deploying or are slowing down deployment of interconnection links in order to slow down transition of customers to a newer operator. This is not new. What is possibly unprecedented is the number of incoming calls to other networks, since Jio has made regular phone calls free.
– It’s also possible that the new telecom operator wants changes in the interconnection arrangements, and is using this face-off to instigate a policy change.

In the future

Telecom interconnections are a legacy of being on PSTN networks and numbering schemes, which require bilateral interconnection. Ideally, over IP networks, there should be no numbers, and just names or email addresses, and telecom operators should be wireless data service providers. Such models also don’t restrict users to a particular operator, allowing them to switch between operators (telecom, wireline, wifi), and pay only for how much data they use on a particular ISP.

The story so far…

On August 11th: After alleging that recent TRAI consultations on Interconnection charges favored new entrants, COAI lashed out against  Jio’s network trails stating that the amount of traffic being generated from the Jio trials are “choking” points of interconnection, and “impairing” quality of service of other operators.

On September 13th: Idea pledged to add an additional 196 POIs in order to handle 1.85 million more customers from Jio where calls originate. Some data from them: in August 2016, 2.97 million Jio subscribers called Idea’s network, and there was an asymmetry of traffic of 14.5 times between Jio and their network. Airtel said that with its upgrade, it will be able to serve 15 million customers but did not give out a specific number of POIs.

On September 15th: Jio claims that over 22 crore calls from Jio’s subscribers have failed while interconnecting with Airtel’s network, while 52 crore calls have failed in total while interconnecting with three incumbent operators combines viz. Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea.

On September 16th: Jio accused Vodafone India of being anti-competitive and said that it hasn’t provided enough points of interconnect (POIs) for voice calls on their network. It said that over 80 calls were failing out of every 100 call attempts to Vodafone, adding that“In the last 10 days alone, over 15 crore RJIL calls have failed on the Vodafone network”.

On September 18th: Airtel says points of interconnection have to be tested and connected, but Jio “seems to be dilly-dallying on the issue and not cooperating deliberately. It appears that the constant rhetoric may be a ploy by Jio to cover up some technical issues in their own network, which is causing call failures, by constantly blaming other operators. In addition, call drops or the lack of VoLTE stabilization should not be hidden behind the issue of POIs, which are being augmented at regular and quick intervals.”

On September 20th: Jio releases data saying that “hardly any new interconnection capacity has been made operational”, and that it needs 4,000 – 5,000 E1s per operator for the three incumbent operators. Jio mentioned 10 crore call failures per day between RJIL and the three incumbent operators.

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