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TRAI grills Vodafone Idea and Airtel further on priority 4G plans

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on July 31 sent further questions to Airtel and Vodafone Idea on their priority 4G plans. The Economic Times first reported the fresh questionnaires. These plans, Vodafone RedX and Airtel Platinum, the telecom operators claim, give users who pay more higher speeds. TRAI initially tried halting these plans altogether but the TDSAT lifted the regulator’s order staying them, saying that it would be possible to investigate the plans without stopping them. Jio is against these plans as “higher or any pre-determined speed for data transfer is technically not feasible to be assured in the [sic] wireless system,” a stand that TRAI shares.

TRAI’s investigation letters to telcos, which MediaNama was able to obtain, (Vodafone Idea — letter, questionnaire, Airtel — letter, questionnaire) are the regulator’s second list of questions on the issue — you can read our coverage of the first list here.

TRAI’s questions to telcos

Here’s a summary of TRAI’s new questions to telcos:

  1. You say you use the QoS Class Identifier QCI 6 to give priority 4G users higher speeds. But standards for QCI 6 state that they are intended for use by emergency responders. Isn’t it a violation to use this standard for a commercial purpose?
  2. Please provide international case studies of QCI 6 being used commercially.
  3. Please provide technical details of how your networks manage congestion on the LTE Radio Access Network [that is used by 4G devices].
  4. How many nodes in your network in Delhi were running at 80–90% or higher capacity in June?
  5. Do you limit data throughput for subscribers when congestion happens in the network? If so, please provide details.
  6. Do you limit throughput for some services like FTP or video streaming to limit users abusing the network? If so, please provide details. [note: this is a net neutrality question, and it would be interesting to see what this could unearth.]
  7. Do you have a maximum bitrate defined for users with a guaranteed bitrate (GBR)? If so, please provide details.
  8. “Have you kept Allocation and Retention Priority (ARP) and Service Data Flow (SDF) parameters same for platinum and non-platinum subscribers in your network? If yes, then kindly confirm. If no, then kindly elucidate the differences and the objectives of the same.”
  9. What are your core network congestion policies?
  10. How do you monitor congestion in the 4G network and the core network?
  11. “How much percentage of total 4G cell sites experienced RAN user plane congestion? Kindly provide the details for Delhi LSA for June 2020.”
  12. In June 2020, what was the average bitrate that premium and non-premium users generally had in Delhi and Maharashtra?
  13. Where are the top 10 LTE sites in Delhi and Maharashtra where usage by premium subscribers is highest? What was these users’ average internet speed in these places?
  14. Similarly, what were the most congested sites in these two circles? What was the average speed there?
  15. Other than assigning premium users a QCI 6 classification, what else was done to ensure that they receive higher speeds?
  16. There can be concentration of premium users in some places that could clog networks for both regular and premium users. How do you plan to address this, and what could be the impact of such congestion on critical services like online education?
  17. “What happens during congestion when a non-priority customer is surrounded by priority customers? Will his packets not be dropped?”
  18. Please provide technical details to back up your claim that these plans won’t hurt the interests of non-premium subscribers.
  19. Aren’t premium plans a new type of service since you’re claiming higher speeds, when wireless telecom operators have never committed to any speed?
  20. Do your 4G LTE plans conform to 3GPP standards with regard to speeds?
  21. If they do, please provide details. If not, how can you provide higher speeds to some subscribers without even conforming to normal 4G standards?
  22. To Airtel: ” Is a [service level agreement guaranteeing certain levels of speeds or reliability] offered to the platinum customers and non-platinum customers and how the customers will come to know about breach of SLA?”
  23. To Airtel: You mention that “optimum speeds” are maintained for all subscribers during congestion. What are these speeds? Can you guarantee these speeds?
  24. To Airtel: “How a platinum customer will come to know that he is getting the promised speed? Platinum customer can measure the speed he is getting but he is not aware of other customers’ speed.”
  25. To Airtel: Please clarify your claim that prioritisation is only applied when congestion happens. Is this for places where traffic is usually congested, or only at times when traffic is congested?
  26. To Airtel: You claim that the number of users using premium 4G is too insignificant for it to have an impact for regular users and also that these plans are like a FASTag lane on a highway that allows users to avoid waiting. These two statements are contradictory; please explain them.

Read: TRAI’s original questionnaires: TRAI letter to Airtel | TRAI letter to Vodafone Idea | TRAI questionnaire to Airtel | TRAI questionnaire to Vodafone Idea

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