Mukesh Ambani owned Reliance Jio has filed a complaint with the Competition Commission of India (CCI) claiming that Bharti Airtel, Idea, and Vodafone have formed a cartel to restrict its operations, reports Economic Times. Jio’s complaint also mentioned that the three operators have not provided adequate Points of Interconnection (PoIs) for hosting calls on it network. MediaNama contacted Jio for a comment, but the company did not respond to our written queries.
The report added that the case would be heard within a fortnight with the presence of the three operators and Jio. Idea is yet to respond to MediaNama’s queries. A spokesperson from Airtel said it has not received any official communication regarding the complaint and was unable to provide a detailed comment.
“However, any such fanciful and baseless allegation of a cartel of three competitors operating in a highly competitive and price sensitive market, needs to be debunked…These allegations follow a standard pattern of browbeating and are aimed at creating multiple regulatory hurdles in the sincere efforts of other players in the space. As a responsible corporate, we have always been in compliance of all regulations,” the Airtel spokesperson added.
A spokesperson from Vodafone said that it did not aware of a CCI complaint. The company currently claims to have released enough PoIs to cater to 50 million customers; but did not provide an number.
“Vodafone is a responsible telecom service provider, committed to Digital India. We are pro-consumer, pro-choice and pro-innovation. We conduct our business in adherence to all applicable regulations and norms and in a manner that creates value for the consumer, the industry and the country,” the Vodafone spokesperson added.
TRAI’s recommendation to penalize Airtel, Vodafone, Idea
Last month, India’s telecom regulator TRAI recommended the DoT to impose a combined penalty of Rs 3050 crore on Airtel, Idea and Vodafone, as they were found to “willfully violate the license conditions” by denying PoIs to Jio. But almost a month later, TRAI requested Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to “mutually” resolve issue with Jio, after holding a meeting with the disputing operators.
Time-line of the Interconnection battle
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 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 PoIs 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,” Airtel added.
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.
On September 23rd: Jio claimed that over 750 calls per 1,000 are failing per day between Idea and Jio networks, which translates to 4 crore calls failing per day. “Only 50 new E1s have been operationalized by Idea in the last 10 days as a result of which call failure rate has been increasing drastically,” Jio added.
On September 27th: Bharti Airtel said that Jio’s sea call failures is taking place due to the Jio’s “under- preparedness and insufficient testing efforts,” according to a TelecomTalk report. The main reason for such call failures was due to Jio’s acquisition of large number of subscribers even before the commencement of its commercial launch, Airtel added.
On September 27th: Jio responded stating that “Airtel’s contention that the congestion has been caused by large-scale subscriber acquisition by RJIL is not only unreasonable but also anti-competitive.” It added that Jio has is “completely ready” to accept augmentation of PoIs from Airtel’s network and its transmission media has been up and operation for several months.
On September 28th: TRAI decided to step in and hold a meeting with all telecom operators to discuss about the Interconnection issue. The meeting held on September 30th also discussed some alleged tariff violation by Jio.
On October 24th: TRAI recommends the DoT to impose a combined penalty of Rs 3050 crore on Airtel, Idea and Vodafone.
On October 27th: TRAI issued a consultation paper asking whether a standardized interconnect agreement be mandated in case two telcos fail to mutually negotiate the terms and conditions of interconnection.
On November 3rd: TRAI requests Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to “mutually” resolve issue of interconnection with Reliance Jio, according to this PTI report.
On November 4th: Reliance Jio said that, the way interconnection points have been opened up by Airtel for Jio is unfair since the PoIs released were unidirectional and not bidirectional as requested. Airtel, on the other hand did not comment on the nature of the interconnection, but said that the newly released PoIs were “sufficient to serve over 75 million customers, based on the forecast provided by Jio.