Give users effective compensation

Give users effective compensation

Every telecom subscriber has learned to live with call drops, almost every fifth call one makes is abruptly disconnected midway with no warnings or apologies. The worst is that the subscriber has to still pay for the unutilised call duration as more than 40 per cent subscribers use a “per minute” tariff plan.

The consumers are facing substantial call drops at least for the last two years which is borne out by the data provided by Trai in their “Consultation paper on Call Drops”. As per the 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, 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.”
The “Standards of Quality of Service of Cellular Mobile Telephone Regulations, 2009,” states that call drop rate of any cellular mobile telephone service provider (Telco) should not exceed two per cent.”

This seems to be the norm in most of the developed countries. As per a study in Delhi by Phimetrics Technologies, call drop rates varied widely even for the 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:

36 per cent call drops happen in good network areas
30 per cent inability-to-call events happen during off-peak hours
40 per cent of call-receive failures happen post-midnight

Independent Drive Tests (IDTs) conducted by TUV SUD, a global testing body, for Trai in Mumbai and Delhi this June and July, respectively, showed that call drop rates for all Telcos on the pre-selected routes were well beyond the 2 per cent limit (ranging from 0.84-17.29 per cent for Delhi and 0.97-5.56 per cent for Mumbai) with one exception each (most probably with very few connections).

This demolishes Telco/Trai’s argument that unhappy consumers can always opt for MNP (Mobile Number Portability). The main reasons for dropped calls are: Lack of radio coverage; imperfections in the functioning of the network (such as failed handover or cell-reselection attempts) and capacity constraints and overload in the network (such as cells).

This means call drops occur either due to inadequate coverage or insufficient towers, which is not a sufficient reason as Delhi has 2.2 towers per square km, comparing well with Singapore at 2.2 and Shanghai 2.1.

Or, this can happen due to insufficient network capacity to handle the traffic. The main culprit is again borne out by the Trai analysis which demonstrates that from the quarter ending June’13 to quarter ending March’15, investment by Telcos in base trans-receiver station (BTS) towers carrying voice traffic grew by only 8 per cent, whereas 3G-Node B grew to a phenomenal 61 per cent, clearly showing Telcos investment preference for data capacity over voice capacity (it is even plausible that voice resources are being diverted to data which is more paying to the Telcos).

For a consumer, every dropped call means: Loss of paid talk time due to abrupt disconnection; cost of repeat calls as calling consumer not only has to apologise for the dropped call, repeat the conversation to bring back the context before stating the purpose/completing the call thereby making a much longer call than envisaged originally spending more than double the intended call charges; time wasted in the failed/inconclusive call/repeat calls; loss of face in business calls and missed opportunities and unimaginable consequences in emergency situations.

So, for the consumer, it is not only monitory loss but loss of precious time and reputation, apart from lost opportunities which cannot be compensated.

Trai proposal

The Trai proposal for compensating consumers for dropped calls revolves around compensating the last second / minute of the call terminated which is a matter of a few paise. It is a mere eyewash as it does not address all the consumer detriments listed above. There is no disincentive for Telcos’ continued call drops (for a 2 per cent call drop rate assuming a per/second pulse at Rs 0.02 compensation estimated is Rs 21 crore for quarter ending March 2015 for all the Delhi Telcos. This is not even 1 per cent of their Gross Adjusted Revenue for the quarter).

The Telcos, however, want an escape route: (a) Sealing towers due to RWA pressure: A pertinent fact is that Telcos’ or their Associations (COAI / AUSPI) have not made an honest effort to educate public on electromagnetic fields radiation from telecom towers.
(b) Shortage of spectrum: Quantum of available spectrum was well known to every Telco which entered the Indian market. Secondly, if Telcos’ feel that they have insufficient capacity (spectrum), they should have stopped taking in new subscribers – here Trai is also a culprit for not being proactive.

(c) Telcos will lose subscribers through MNP if they do not reduce call drops: Telco/Trai’s argument that unhappy consumers can always opt for MNP is invalid because all the Telcos have same number of call drops so no alternative is available to the subscribers.

The consumers want: Refund of money lost in talk time due to call drop for the last three months since the time the call drop rate crossed the Trai prescribed norm of 2 per cent; disincentive, say four times the refund amount which should be paid to the subscribers; Trai should monitor call drop on a monthly basis and Telcos scoring more than 4 per cent call drops should be barred from adding new subscribers till they achieve call drop score below 2 per cent.

(The writer is advisor, IT and telecom, Consumer Voice, New Delhi)

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