Bharti Airtel will remove all national roaming charges for incoming/outgoing calls and SMSes starting from April 1, 2017, the company said in a statement. Users roaming outside their home network, will not be charged extra for making local or STD calls, while home data and voice packs for customers will apply even while roaming across other circles.
Airtel’s decision to do away with roaming charges comes after state-owned telco BSNL first abolished roaming on its network in June 2015. This was regarded as one of the first steps to roll out nationwide Mobile Number Portability (MNP). Prior to this, telecom regulator TRAI had instructed telcos to reduce ceiling tariffs for national roaming calls and SMSes and had also mandated telcos to offer a special roaming tariff plan to pre-paid and post-paid subscribers.
However, Airtel’s move also comes at a time when it has been losing subscribers and a significant amount of revenue following Reliance Jio’s launch, which is offering free unlimited calls and data (capped at 1GB per day). The Mukesh-Ambani owned telco had unveiled a new set of tariff packs in this month and mentioned that roaming charges will not apply on its network.
Automated packs for International roaming
Airtel has also unveiled a workaround to cut “bill shock” or excessive billing for users roaming abroad. The telco will automatically activate an international roaming pack for users whenever their bills cross a particular amount. This will ensure that a subscriber will not be overcharged for making calls while traveling outside India. For e.g. an Airtel subscriber traveling to USA without a roaming pack will automatically move to a ‘one-day’ pack of free incoming and calls/SMS whenever their bills hit a threshold of Rs 649. Even after a subscriber exhausts their pack benefits, they will continue to have reduced data and call rates at Rs 3/min and data rates at Rs 3/MB.
MediaNama’s Take: As of now only Airtel, Jio, and BSNL have abolished roaming charges on its network, and this might force rival operators to do away with roaming charges. Note that the Indian government had planned to remove roaming charges in 2012 and TRAI had subsequently issued a consultation paper asking whether how to recover costs if incoming calls were made free on roaming. However, some telecom companies had preferred not to remove roaming charges: COAI, a telecom lobby body consisting largely of India’s GSM operators submitted in a response (to TRAI’s consultation) that ‘any attempt to remove roaming charges would have serious cost implications’.