Where, 3G?

Consumer Voice - - This Is It -

AFor con­nec­tiv­ity-starved In­di­ans the 3G was like a god’s gift giv­ing them hope of bet­ter surf­ing and con­nec­tiv­ity on de­mand. Ser­vice providers (SPs) also were up­beat about their busi­ness prospects, so much so that they al­most threw cau­tion to the winds while bid­ding dur­ing the auc­tion. Then again, a few SPs (read Air­tel, Idea and Voda­fone) tried to cre­ate a car­tel by bid­ding in con­cert by not bid­ding against each other and carv­ing out the cir­cles in such a way that col­lec­tively they had pan-In­dia 3G li­cense. What played out next was the real messy bit.

fter the auc­tions, the suc­cess­ful bid­ders, the SPs, started us­ing their car­tel as they to­gether had about 75 per cent of the mo­bile mar­ket – suf­fi­cient to dic­tate the terms of avail­ing 3G ser­vices to con­sumers in­clud­ing high tar­iffs. Not only the ba­sic tar­iffs were kept high (about 10p/10 KB), they also found ways of putting add-on charges so that the ef­fec­tive tar­iff the con­sumer paid was even higher.

The sit­u­a­tion was ag­gra­vated fur­ther by un­ex­pect­edly slow rev­enue growth for the SPs, putting strains on their fi­nan­cials for over­pay­ing for the band­widths/li­censes in their false be­lief of ma­nip­u­lat­ing the sys­tems and carteliza­tion be­ing ef­fec­tive. The SPs (read Air­tel, Idea and Voda­fone) also were pulled up for il­le­gally sell­ing the ser­vices with­out a li­cense as their agree­ment was termed il­le­gal even by courts. Con­sumers were re­luc­tant to pay so much for just be­ing con­nected as net­works

were not yet ready to serve them at their op­ti­mum speeds and con­ti­nu­ity.

Now, af­ter two years of 3G avail­abil­ity and re­duc­tion of tar­iffs across SPs, con­sumers are still not happy with the ser­vices on of­fer. Con­sumers’ com­plaints re­volve around four main is­sues: a) con­nec­tiv­ity, b) speed, c) tar­iff, and d) billing. Let us take up each of these is­sues in de­tail. a) Con­nec­tiv­ity: When a con­sumer buys a 3G plan, she ex­pects that she will be able to use the con­nec­tion wher­ever and when­ever she wants. But that is not the ground sit­u­a­tion even in the most de­vel­oped cir­cles like Delhi. On com­plain­ing to cus­tomer care, she is told of var­i­ous con­di­tions and fine print re­gard­ing li­cense con­di­tions, net­work is­sues, etc. Like in the case of Air­tel, Voda­fone and Idea, they do not have a pan-In­dia li­cense and so they de­pend on their col­lab­o­ra­tor to pro­vide con­nec­tiv­ity wher­ever they do not have the li­cense. This is never ex­plained to the con­sumer.

Even within their li­cense area there are lots of ‘dark ar­eas’ for all the SPs be­cause they have cut down on cre­at­ing suf­fi­cient in­fra­struc­ture to cut costs. No SP tells the prospec­tive buyer about these ‘dark ar­eas’ till com­plaints are lodged. Nor has TRAI given at­ten­tion to these is­sues. And there is ab­so­lutely no re­funds com­ing if we are un­able to use the con­nec­tion be­cause of this.

b) Speed: This is one area where con­sumers are be­ing ‘cheated’ by all the SPs. The con­sumer never gets the promised speed even af­ter buy­ing the high­est tar­iff plan. Then again, even TRAI/DoT has not man­dated min­i­mum speed yet. So the SPs get away with im­punity by just promis­ing ‘speed up to…’, which legally cov­ers any speed from 1 bps to the max­i­mum stated, whether or not it is us­able by con­sumer.

c) Tar­iff: Re­al­iz­ing that high tar­iffs are not bring­ing in suf­fi­cient con­sumers, all SPs have re­duced the tar­iffs by up to 70 per cent in the last one year and 3G tar­iffs are now com­pa­ra­ble with 2G. How­ever, while all SPs have al­most sim­i­lar tar­iffs, the sce­nario continues to be to­tally con­fus­ing for the lay con­sumer, as can be seen from the chart given here.

This ta­ble, dis­play­ing a few rep­re­sen­ta­tive 3G data plans for all the ISPs op­er­at­ing in Delhi-NCR, un­der­lines three dis­tinc­tive cat­e­gories: • High-end SPs – only Air­tel charg­ing 3p/10

KB • Mid-level SPs – Voda­fone, Re­liance charg­ing

2p/10 KB • Lower-priced SPs like MTNL at 1 to 2 p/10

KB, and the low­est-priced MTS

Air­tel: Not only is it charg­ing the high­est, it also has var­i­ous add-on charges. More­over, since it does not have a na­tional li­cense, it charges for do­mes­tic roam­ing as well. Thus, Air­tel’s ef­fec­tive tar­iff is well be­yond the 3p/10 KB it claims.

Voda­fone: Though rel­a­tively cheaper than Air­tel and with less add-on charges, Voda­fone also charges for na­tional roam­ing as it does not have a na­tional 3G li­cense. Over­all, there is still some dif­fer­ence be­tween stated tar­iff and charged tar­iff for Voda­fone, though the dif­fer­ence is not as big as Air­tel’s.

Other SPs: No other SP op­er­at­ing in Delhi charges roam­ing for 3G data ser­vices. They also do not have any add-on charges, so the tar­iff stated and charged is same for them.

d) Billing: Billing continues to be the big­gest pain point for 3G data con­sumers. With so many hid­den charges, roam­ing charges and charges for ex­ceed­ing the data lim­its or even not us­ing 3G, all 3G con­sumers face billing dis­putes. Billing is­sues arise be­cause of: • Con­fus­ing tar­iff card of the SPs • Hid­den/Un­stated charges • Un­clear/Con­fus­ing roam­ing poli­cies • Ac­ci­den­tal us­age of 3G by con­sumers/un

savvy In­ter­net users • Plans with­out lim­its cor­re­spond­ing to credit lim­its, es­pe­cially in case of Air­tel and Voda­fone • Lack of tools to mea­sure speed, us­age and

con­nec­tiv­ity Max­i­mum billing-re­lated com­plaints are re­ported against Air­tel, fol­lowed by Voda­fone. Re­liance has max­i­mum dis­putes on us­age of In­ter­net. The least billing-re­lated com­plaints are re­ported by MTNL.

Out of the Maze

3G continues to be in a flux with re­gard to li­censes, qual­ity of con­nec­tion, tar­iff, roam­ing as well as qual­ity of ser­vice (QOS) is­sues. For first-time users, it is a big­ger pain till they nav­i­gate the in­tri­ca­cies of above-men­tioned is­sues. To take care of these is­sues, we want TRAI/DoT to en­sure the fol­low­ing: (a) A uni­form and log­i­cal tar­iff struc­ture should

be for­mu­lated and well pub­li­cized. (b) Li­cense/Ser­vice ar­eas of dif­fer­ent SPs should

be well pub­li­cized on a con­tin­u­ous ba­sis. (c) Roam­ing charges should be re­moved for data

ser­vices as most SPs are not levy­ing the same. (d) Min­i­mum speed should also be pre­scribed for

each level of con­nec­tion. (e) SPs should pro­vide tools for mea­sur­ing con­nec­tiv­ity, speed and us­age to all con­sumers and the same should be avail­able on TRAI/ DOT sites as well. (f) Def­i­ni­tion of 3G with speed and con­nec­tiv­ity

should be clear. (g) There should be a clear pol­icy on data card/

don­gles in­clud­ing their porta­bil­ity.

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