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TRAI asks telcos to enable SMS for portability on all plans after Vodafone deviated

The new directive by TRAI comes days after Reliance Jio wrote to the authority.

All telecom operators must allow customers to send and receive SMS for porting to a different network, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has said in a new direction issued on December 7.

The direction comes days after Reliance Jio wrote to TRAI regarding Vodafone removing its SMS facility from its base plans under the recent tariff hikes. Not having SMS would obstruct customers’ ability to port to a different network without upgrading to a more expensive plan, the telecom giant complained.

Introduced in 2009, mobile number portability gave customers the freedom to choose their network while keeping their number. TRAI’s latest direction is a proactive measure to ensure that freedom.

Allow SMS for portability in all plans immediately: TRAI

In its latest directive, TRAI pointed out that not enabling SMS services for portability on any plan is a violation of the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) Regulations 2009:

  • What do the regulations say? Under the MNP regulations, TRAI specified that every telecom operator must have a mechanism for receiving an SMS from subscribers requesting portability and taking that request forward.
  • Are telcos in compliance?  TRAI pointed out that it had received ‘various complaints from subscribers’ about being unable to send SMS on the short code 1900 for availing portability. “It is noticed that Telecom Service Providers are not providing outgoing SMS facility in certain prepaid vouchers,” the authority said.
  • What has TRAI ordered? In the directive, TRAI has ordered all telecom operators to enable the facility to send SMS on the short code 1900 regardless of the plan to which they’ve subscribed.

Jio complains to TRAI about Vodafone plans without SMS

The new directive by TRAI comes days after Reliance Jio wrote to the authority, according to a PTI report, complaining that Vodafone has excluded SMS from its Rs. 99 base level plan:

“Jio has complained to Trai that VIL new tariff restricts people opting for low value plans from porting their mobile number as outgoing SMS facility is not available in the entry level plans of VIL,” a source told PTI.

An NGO called Telecom WatchDog also filed a complaint against Vodafone’s plan, the PTI report said. “Our immediate concern is about their step in which they have moved SMS services to a higher tariff bracket i.e. Rs 179 package, minimum… If a consumer wants to port out, he must first pay Rs 179 to get the tariff plan with SMS service,” the NGO was reported as saying.

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MediaNama has reached out to Vodafone for comment and will update the report once a response is received.

Why telecom players recently raised tariffs on prepaid plans

Last month, Airtel announced a 20-25% increase in tariffs for prepaid plans. The new prices will give Airtel “the elbow room to roll out 5G in India,” the company said in a press release.

Following Airtel’s announcement, both Jio and Vodafone have increased tariffs to the tune of 20%. Explaining the hike, Airtel said in the press release:

“Airtel has always maintained that the mobile Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) needs to be at Rs 200 and ultimately at Rs 300, so as to provide a reasonable return on capital that allows for a financially healthy business model.” – Airtel Press Release

A stressed telecom sector means that urgent reforms are needed to maintain the status quo, or sharp price hikes are not too far into the future. “We have seen the worse now in terms of tariff wars and ARPU contraction,” Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal said recently, indicating that tariffs will only rise from hereon.

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