Telecom regulator TRAI said that operators will be liable to pay up to Rs 5 lakh in fines if they fail to meet TRAI’s new call drop benchmark, in a new amendment (pdf).  In case the operator defaults in meeting the benchmarks for two quarters consecutively, the fine amount will be increased by 1.5x times, and 2x times for more than 2 quarters, the regulator added. Note that these regulations will come into force on October 1st, 2017.

The earlier method of calculating call drops—using performance data from 22 service areas on an average basis—is now discarded. TRAI said that the average data “in effect hides the poorly performing cells or BTS (Base Transceiver Station).” Since there was no granular measurement at the cell level, it seemed like telcos were meeting quality of standards regulations, but “customers were complaining about poor QoS” in several service areas, TRAI added.

The revised call drop benchmark—Dropped Call Rate (DCR) will be calculated on a percentile basis instead of existing methodology which calculates only the average of all call drops in a service area. It will include performance measures at a cell or BTS level, instead of service area level. Mobile carrier cells sometimes face downtime issues either temporarily or for several days, and this might not reflect on TRAI’s test reports. The new metric will also “help to highlight the specific areas and specific days when network performance was excellent or poor,” TRAI added.

Other changes to QoS benchmarks

  • Dropped Call Rate (DCR) will be a network agnostic performance measure. It will combine test results of all mobile standards including GSM, CDMA, WCDMA, LTE, etc.
  • Network level QoS parameters or benchmarks for the testing performance of VoLTE calls will be same as earlier benchmarks prescribed for circuit switched calls.
  • Telcos cannot meddle with Radio Lint Timeout (RLT) settings on its network, which affects cropped call rate data collected by TRAI. “Calls which were supposed to be registered as call dropped by the network may be registered as call released by the users” themselves if telcos increased the RLT limit, TRAI added.

‘QoS standards provided by a telco is beyond its absolute control:’ COAI

“As the voluminous amendment with multiple recommendations has just been published, we are still studying the new regulations on the changed methodology of measurement in order to fully understand its impact on the industry,” Rajan Mathews, Director General of COAI said. He added that QoS provided by a telco “is beyond the absolute control of a network service provider” due to several factors. Most of them may not be ‘environmental’, Mathews added.

According to him, factors like “the number of users accessing the network at that time, area covered by the BTS; whether the customer is indoors or outdoors, application being used by the customer; Peak/off-peak time, Kind of device or hardware being used; additional external interference as well as the quantum of spectrum available” contribute to call drops. Mathews added that in addition to this, “ issues like Right-of-Way and misinformation amongst citizens around EMF emission issues are still major problems, refusing to die down, preventing TSPs (telcos) from accessing crucial sites for seamless connectivity.”

Our Take: This still doesn’t compensate customers for poor QoS

This isn’t the first time that the call drop issue is being brought to the limelight by the TRAI. When the country was facing an increasing number of call drops, evident from TRAI’s test reports, the regulator suggested that the customer should be compensated with Re 1 for every dropped call. COAI and Association of Unified Service Providers in India (AUSPI) however, filed a case in the Delhi High Court in December 2015, challenging the regulator’s order of Re 1 as compensation. The matter then was escalated to the Supreme Court; it struck down TRAI’s compensation structure in May 2016.

However, call drops menace continues as telcos have been fighting over Interconnection issues, and even though TRAI proposed a Rs 3050 crore fine against erring operators, consumers are still facing bad quality service, and are left without any compensation or alternative for it.