THIS IS IT

As I Was Say­ing

Consumer Voice - - Contents - He­mant Upad­hyay

Never mind, the call dropped

Ev­ery tele­com sub­scriber has learned to live with call drops. Al­most ev­ery fifth call one makes is abruptly dis­con­nected mid­way—no warn­ings, no apolo­gies. Even worse, the sub­scriber has to still pay for the unutilised call du­ra­tion as more than 40 per cent sub­scribers use a per­minute tar­iff plan. Amid all this, if one thought that shift­ing to an­other op­er­a­tor would solve the prob­lem, they would soon find out that things are not as sim­ple as that.

Tele­com sub­scribers have been fac­ing sub­stan­tial call drops for at least the last two years, as borne out by data pro­vided by Tele­com Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity of In­dia (TRAI) in their ‘ Con­sul­ta­tion Pa­per on Call Drops’. How­ever, it took the in­ter­ven­tion of the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter be­fore the gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery started work­ing in earnest to ad­dress the prob­lem – to be­gin with, by as­sess­ing the in­fra­struc­ture and ca­pac­ity of tele­com op­er­a­tors for ef­fec­tively pro­vid­ing ser­vices.

What Is a Call Drop?

As per TRAI, “Call drop rep­re­sents the ser­vice provider’s in­abil­ity to main­tain a call once it has been cor­rectly es­tab­lished, both in­com­ing and out­go­ing, which, once es­tab­lished and as­signed traf­fic chan­nel (TCH), are dropped or in­ter­rupted prior to their nor­mal com­ple­tion by the user, the cause of the early ter­mi­na­tion be­ing within the ser­vice provider’s net­work.”

As per ‘The Stan­dards of Qual­ity of Ser­vice of

Ba­sic Tele­phone Ser­vice (Wire­line) and Cel­lu­lar Mo­bile Tele­phone Reg­u­la­tions, 2009’, call-drop rate (av­er­aged over a cal­en­dar month) of any cel­lu­lar mo­bile tele­phone ser­vice provider should not ex­ceed two per cent. This seems to be norm in most of the de­vel­oped coun­tries as well.

Ground Re­al­ity

As per a study con­ducted in Delhi by Phi­met­rics Tech­nolo­gies, call-drop rates were widely dif­fer­ent even for two tel­cos with sim­i­lar sub­scriber base, spec­trum own­er­ship and tower dis­tri­bu­tion. This means spec­trum and tow­ers are not the main con­trib­u­tors to call drops. The study also found that:

off-peak hours mid­night So, the tel­cos are bark­ing up the wrong tree. Again, the in­de­pen­dent Drive Tests (IDTs) con­ducted by TUV SUD, on be­half of TRAI, in Mum­bai (June 2015) and in Delhi (July 2015) showed call-drop rates for var­i­ous tele­com ser­vice providers (TSPs) on the pre-se­lected routes to be:

It does seem that all tel­cos are fac­ing call-drop is­sues ex­cept for one each in Delhi and Mum­bai. This de­mol­ishes the ar­gu­ment by tel­cos/TRAI that un­happy con­sumers can al­ways opt for mo­bilenum­ber porta­bil­ity (MNP) since all tel­cos are more or less the same.

Rea­sons

The main rea­sons for dropped calls are: (such as failed han­dover or cell-re­s­e­lec­tion at­tempts) dif­fer­ent el­e­ments of the net­work (such as cells) Thus, call drops oc­cur due to ei­ther in­ad­e­quate cov­er­age (in­suf­fi­cient tower spread) or in­suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity of the telco’s net­work to han­dle the traf­fic. Now, so far as Delhi is con­cerned, in­ad­e­quate cov­er­age is not a suf­fi­cient rea­son as it boasts of 2.2 tow­ers per square kilo­me­tre, which com­pares well with Sin­ga­pore (also 2.2) and Shang­hai (2.1). That ca­pac­ity is the main cul­prit is borne out by the TRAI anal­y­sis as well (re­fer to ta­ble on next

oage).

* 1 Peta Byte = 1,024 Tera Byte # In the above ta­ble, the us­age of GSM net­work has been rep­re­sented in terms of main us­age items, viz. voice us­age and data (In­ter­net) us­age (Source: In­for­ma­tion fur­nished by TSPs to TRAI) This ta­ble clearly demon­strates that GSM voice traf­fic for all GSM tel­cos grew only 12 per cent from the quar­ter end­ing June 2013 to the quar­ter end­ing March 2015, whereas 2G data traf­fic grew 106 per cent and 3G data grew 252 per cent in the same pe­riod. At the same time, base trans­ceiver sta­tion (BTS) tow­ers grew by only 8 per cent whereas 3G-Node B grew to a phe­nom­e­nal 61 per cent, clearly show­ing the pref­er­ence of tel­cos for in­vest­ments in data ca­pac­ity over voice ca­pac­ity. (It is even plau­si­ble that voice re­sources are be­ing di­verted to data, which is more lu­cra­tive.)

Con­sumer Detri­ment

For a tele­com con­sumer, ev­ery dropped call means:

– that is, call drop making the re­peat call has to not only apol­o­gise for the dropped call but also re­peat the con­ver­sa­tion to bring back the con­text be­fore stat­ing the pur­pose/ com­plet­ing the call, thereby making a much longer call than en­vis­aged orig­i­nally and spend­ing more than dou­ble the in­tended call charges

+ re­peat calls

Thus, for the con­sumer the is­sue is not only of mon­e­tary loss but also re­lates to loss of pre­cious time and rep­u­ta­tion apart from lost op­por­tu­ni­ties, which can­not be com­pen­sated.

Com­pen­sat­ing Con­sumers

TRAI’s pro­posal for com­pen­sat­ing tele­com con­sumers for dropped calls re­volves around com­pen­sa­tion for the last sec­ond/minute of the call ter­mi­nated, which is in a few paise. This is mere eye­wash as it does not ad­dress all the con­sumer detri­ments listed above. There is no dis-in­cen­tive for the con­tin­ued call drops. (For a 2% call-drop rate, as­sum­ing a per/sec­ond pulse rate @ Rs 0.02, the com­pen­sa­tion es­ti­mated is Rs 21 crores for the quar­ter ended March 2015, for all the tel­cos op­er­a­tional in Delhi com­bined, which is not even 1 per cent of their gross ad­justed rev­enue for the quar­ter.)

The Ex­cuses

Seal­ing of tow­ers by mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties due to RWA pres­sure: On the face of it, Delhi has 2.2 tow­ers per square kilo­me­tre. A per­ti­nent fact is that tel­cos or their as­so­ci­a­tions (Cel­lu­lar Op­er­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of In­di­aCOAI/As­so­ci­a­tion of Uni­fied Tele­com Ser­vice Providers of In­dia-AUSPI) have not made any hon­est ef­fort to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on elec­tro­mag­netic field (EMF) ra­di­a­tions from tele­com tow­ers. Short­age of spec­trum: The quan­tum of avail­able spec­trum was very well known to ev­ery telco that en­tered the In­dian mar­ket. Also, if tel­cos feel that they have in­suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity (spec­trum), they should have stopped tak­ing in new sub­scribers – here TRAI also is the cul­prit for not be­ing proac­tive. (Can some­body com­mit to sell more than his pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity?) Tel­cos will lose sub­scribers through MNP if they do not re­duce call drops: Tel­cos’ ar­gu­ment that un­happy con­sumers can al­ways opt for MNP is in­valid be­cause all of them have a sim­i­lar level of call drops, which means no al­ter­na­tive is avail­able to sub­scribers. Amid all this go­ing and forth of points, one thing is a must: TRAI should mon­i­tor call drops on a monthly ba­sis and tel­cos scor­ing more than four per cent call drops should be barred from adding new sub­scribers till they achieve a call-drop score be­low two per cent. Not only this, tel­cos should re­fund money lost in talk time due to call drops for the last three months.

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