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Is India’s telecom regulator equipped to deal with issues related to quality of services? #NAMA

Does the TRAI really have the capacity or expertise to handle service quality issues? A speaker said this is best left to the market

“…quality of service is an area where existing approaches are not working. The fact is there is no way for the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) to even remotely deal with quality of service given the number of subscribers, given the circumstances in which services are provided, and the number of different elements,” Mahesh Uppal explained at an event organised by MediaNama on Internet Regulation, Convergence and TRAI on February 24, 2023.

Uppal is a telecom analyst who specialises in policy and regulatory aspects of the internet and was one of the attendees at the event. He added that the telecom regulator is never going to be able to address the problem due to its scope.

“I have a poor quality of service, now it may be because the network is poor, it could be that there is a physical barrier between me and the tower next door, it might mean that I am a miser and bought a cheap phone. It’s going to be a nightmare to demonstrate without doubt that the reason behind poor quality of service is the telecom operator,” Uppal said.

The session dealt with issues of convergence, 5G, permission, quality of services, and regulatory overlap as mentioned in the consultation paper released by the telecom regulator on regulatory convergence for broadcasting and telecom services.

You can read the consultation paper here and our summary of the paper here.

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Dealing with complexities of QoS parameters

Where do we use our phones: Uppal pointed out that most surveys which gather quality of service data are done on the street whereas most of the mobile phone usage takes place indoors. “It is not appropriate to use quality of service as some kind of rationale for this convergence (paper),” he said.

Cannot compare telcos with cloud services: Amrita Choudhury, Director, CCAOI, said that one cannot compare the quality of service of telcos with a data centre or cloud service provider because they have to be on at all times. “They will not get business if they don’t work or businesses will shift,” she said.

Rely on market competition: “You see nowhere in the world, particularly in mature regulatory regimes, can you worry about quality of service in the way that we are talking about it here (consultation paper) because it is a complex and a difficult thing to pin down. The only way to deal with it is market competition,” Uppal recommended.

  • Uppal said that a telco may have a reason for why its service is poor but it will have to deal with the perception of its service quality when there is competition in the market.
  • He explained that a lot of unregulated services continue to improve in quality because the company is not worried about regulation but worried about the perception of its quality of service, and the effect on its market share.

What should be TRAI’s role: Uppal said that the telecom regulator should come up with recommendations on how to increase competition in the market. The competition will grow if they remove barriers to entry, etc., to the market. He also clarified that the TRAI has to recognize whether OTT services are providing competition in the market. “These are issues that the market must solve. This is not something that the regulators have the means or the resources to do so or the expertise to deal with,” Uppal averred.

How QoS works: Deepak Maheshwari, a public policy professional, said that QoS has been defined with MOS (Mean Opinion Score) in the telecom sector. It means that a voice call sample is played to different people, and they give a score from one to five about the quality of the call, and the average is called MOS. So that is a quality of service parameter actually from a telecom call perspective, in terms of QoS. He explained that QoS of at least 3.5 was recognised as the bare minimum for telecom networks traditionally, and anything that was four and above was supposed to be good.

  • “..when mobile telephones came initially, the QoS, especially on MOS, scored very, very low, but mobiles were still very popular. People had to pay a lot and they were paying a lot for other features rather than the clarity of the voice, because it was about being in a position to talk,” Maheshwari said, adding that the TRAI should look at how different consumers are looking at quality in different ways and use cases. He said that a uniform and a monolithic definition of QoS is extremely difficult.

What did TRAI say in the consultation paper?

“…Telecom is monitored for its performance as a part of the regulations, while cloud services are not subjected to the same or similar regulations. The un-noticed transition of services from regulated to unregulated domain and that too without appropriate considerations of impact of such transitions on the protection of the interest of the customers may be a matter of concern for the telecom sector,” reads the paper (emphasis ours).

The telecom regulator has said that cloud services do not have the same quality of service requirements as telcos. “..they’re saying we have control over telecom processes, but we have no control over how cloud services operate,” Nikhil Pahwa, Founder and Editor, MediaNama said during the presentation. He explained that TRAI is calling for an expansion of monitoring mechanisms to cloud services and other online services potentially.

Note: The headline was updated on March 1, 2023 at 3:46 PM 

This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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Written By

I cover several beats such as Crypto, Telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I can be found loitering at my local theatre when I am off work consuming movies by the dozen.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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