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The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a telecom lobbying association consisting largely of India’s GSM operators has claimed that it has set up about 129,101 base transceiver stations (BTS’) across the country to tackle call drops on cellular networks. COAI said that this was part of “a 100-day plan…to address the issue of call drops that was causing inconvenience to consumers.”

Under the plan, COAI’s member operators have apparently invested Rs 12,000 crore for installing these BTS’, taking the total to about 1,345,470 BTS’ installed by members of COAI across the country. The 100-day-plan to install BTS’ was deployed during the month of June, and was completed 4 months later, which is this October.

Call drop rates in the country are still high

TRAI releases quarterly compliance reports; and the last report was in June, when COAI’s member operators initiated the plan. Winding up to the start of this year when the call drops issue was on its peak level, TRAI’s Independent Drive Tests (IDTs) conducted between December 2015 to January 2016, revealed that call drop rates in cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, were well above the permissible limits. The limits are set at 2% by the regulator.

Pune was the most affected at that time, with Dropped Call Rate as of for Tata (3G) being recorded at a whopping 42.93%; Airtel (3G) at 7.91%; Idea at 20.96%; Vodafone (3G) at 5.67%, and Aircel at 13.96%.
-In Delhi, Aircel, Idea, Vodafone, Reliance, Tata Teleservices, MTS also failed the tests, although the call drop rates ranged lower than Pune’s. Aircel recorded a call drop rate of 2.63%; Idea had at 2.06% on 2G; Vodafone at 3.87% on 2G, Reliance at 4.54% on 3G; and MTS with 3.28%.
-In Mumbai area Tata recorded dropped call rate of over 10% on 2G, Aircel, Airtel Vodafone,  and Idea had recorded rate above 4%, Tata recorded a whopping 10% rate on 2G.

The latest drive tests conducted by TRAI was during May-June period, and TRAI included more cities this time.
-In Delhi (pdf), call drop rate remained at same levels during May-June period.
-In Mumbai (pdf), Airtel’s rates were below 2% on both 3G and 2G, Aircel recorded 2.23% call drop rate on 2G, Idea recorded a 5% rate on 2G, Vodafone recorded a 2.29% on 3G; RCOM had a 2.85% rate on 2G and 4.84% rate on CDMA, Tata had a 8.8% call drop rate on CDMA.
-Cities like Bhopal (pdf), Hyderabad (pdf), Ahmedabad (pdf), Ranchi (pdf), witnessed high call drop failures, with call drop rates going up till well above permissible limit of 2%.
-Darjeeling and Sikkim (pdf) had the worst quality service, wherein all operators namely Airtel, Aircel, Idea, MTS, Vodafone, and BSNL failed the tests with call drop rates well above the 2% limit. Among private operators, Airtel recorded a 18.85% dropped call rate on 3G, which is the highest in the service area.

COAI’s Director General, Rajan S Mathews said “Most operators have executed the 100-day plan that was submitted to the Communications Minister Shri Manoj Sinha in June, and the results are evident in the decreased numbers of call drops in the country.”

Mathews’ claim that call drops has reduced in the country, is yet to be substantiated with numbers, and whether or not the 100-day plan has reflected in lowering call drop, we are yet to know when TRAI releases its next quarterly report.

Timeline of the call drops issue

June 2015: The Department of Telecom suggested TRAI that telecom operators could provide free minutes in talk time as compensation to consumers whose calls drop.
July 2015: TRAI asked all telecom operators to submit a report on the action they’re taking to deal with call drops by 31 July.
August 2015: TRAI issues a consultation paper in which it proposed not to charge consumers in case calls fail in under 5 seconds, and providing credit to the consumers for dropped calls.
October 2015: TRAI mandated that all telecom operators will have to pay Re 1 to compensate consumers in case of call drops. The new regulations was supposed to come to effect from January 1, 2016.
December 2015: COAI and Association of Unified Service Providers in India (AUSPI) filed a case in the Delhi High Court in December, challenging the regulator’s order of Re 1 as compensation and calling for a stay on the decision.
January 2016: TRAI tells the Delhi High Court that imposing a fine on telecom operators by asking them to compensate customers for call drops, is a matter of policy decision, which the court should not transgress upon.
February – March 2016: TRAI initiates additional Independent Drive Tests (IDTs) across service areas, while telcos refuted TRAI’s tests with their own independent audit findings.
May 2016: The Supreme Court strikes down TRAI’s mandatory Re 1 per dropped call as compensation for consumers stating that the “regulation is arbitrary, ultra vires, unreasonable and not transparent.”
August – October 2016: Call Drops menace continues as telcos fight over Interconnection, and even though TRAI proposes a Rs 3050 crore fine, consumers are still facing bad quality service, and are left without any compensation or alternative for it.