“Your father has been hurt…..” Before the caller could complete his message, obviously very urgent, the call on the mobile gets dropped. The person on the other end gets worried. Frantically he tries to get in touch with the caller who too is fiddling with his mobile to complete the message. Each time they get connected again, the same story repeats. It adds to the anxiety of both. In the process both spend a lot trying to contact each other. Till they are able to communicate with each other fully, both are at their nerve’s ends. The father had slipped and got injured. He was admitted to the hospital and was getting proper treatment. There was nothing to worry. But the newly developed curse of the mobile technology made both the caller and the called fretful.
“Mamma, congratulations…….” The mobile calls gets cut. The ecstasy of the boy is marred by repeatedly shouting “hello, hello” at one end and the mother on the other. Repeatedly they try to get at each other but fail. Each time they get each other’s number engaged because both are trying to get connected with each other. Before the message is complete, the mobile gets on and off a number of times. For a small message they hassle and wrestle for hours. In the meantime, they have to forsake every other work. If this message had been instantly conveyed and received, it would have sent the mother and family to jubilation and celebration. But the call drop robbed the elation and sent them to shivers of anxiety for long. In the meantime, they spend a lot because each time they get connected they have to repeat their message and the Telco’s bill on both sides goes on mounting. The only gainer is the service provider as it only adds to the bill of both for no fault of theirs. In a way, courtesy the service provider tension and misery come free with every connection.
There is a lot of competition among telcos. They promise the moon to allure new customers and those of their rivals. Consumer’s harassment commences the moment they experience the hell of reality in place of the heaven of promises and that too at a cost higher than they anticipated.
According to Telephone Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) former Chairman Rahul Khullar, “call drop is seen more in metros and less in smaller towns”. The phenomenon on 2G networks, he admits, registered a seven-fold jump and a 65 per cent fall in the quality of 3G services during the quarter ending March 2015. Industry average of call drops at the end of the quarter was 12.5 per cent as compared to just 1.64 per cent a year ago on 2G. The problem on 3G network has increased “marginally” on quarter-on quarter basis.
It is ironical that while the quality of service provided is steadily going down, Bharat’s Mobile Subscriber base jumped to 975.78 million at the end of May this year. The telcos are expanding their subscriber base beyond their capacity and minting money at the cost of the consumer harassment.
To check the call drop menace the telecom regulator, as back as April 29 this year, declared to “soon put in place” a new set of ‘service quality benchmarks’ non-compliance of which may fetch a stricter penal action against the mobile operators. TRAI has already defined various qualities of service benchmarks which include call drops, billing, complaint redressal time, and time taken to attend customer calls. The service providers, TRAI said, are penalised up to Rs 10 lakhs for each parameter furnished incorrectly in the report submitted to the regulator. It starts with Rs 50,000 fine for the first non-compliance and Rs 1,00,000 for each subsequent non-compliance.
Call drop rate as per the TRAI norms should be less than 2 per cent of the total, yet it is as high as about 18 per cent excepting one telco in Mumbai and one in Delhi. But in the case of Aircel it was in the range of 3.15 to 17.99 per cent and in the case of BSNL between 3.45-18.91 per cent.
“The drive test results revealed that most of operators”, TRAI admitted, “are not meeting the benchmarks of network related parameters”. They failed “due to high block call rate, high drop call rate, low call setup success rate and poor Rx quality”. Why has the TRAI failed to enforce the parameters it set and punish the defaulters? Sparing the rod has only emboldened the telcos to play truant and recalcitrant. All that the TRAI did report after three months on July 22 was that the telecom service providers (TSPs) “were advised to take initiatives and improve their performance, including exploring suitable compensation for call drops”.
On their part, the telcos claimed that sealing of towers also contributes to call drops. It said that during the last six months, around 801 sites in Mumbai and 523 in Delhi were shut-down. But it is the responsibility of the companies to adhere to norms in erecting towers. The towers were not sealed for fun but for violation of the norms.
Telcos failing to provide a satisfactory service to consumers in 2G and 3G spectrum are yet vying for 4G now. The point arises: Why should a company which failed to provide a satisfactory service in 2G and 3G be given the licence for 4G service?
Crux of the matter is that more the call drops, more the revenue generation for the telcos and more the travails of the consumers in terms of financial loss and mental harassment. That is why companies seem neither to be heeding to the advice of the TRAI and the government nor doing substantially to remedy the situation. As the losses and mental travails of the consumers rise, the profits of the telcos seem to jump at a much faster rate. Irony is that while government is just ‘advising’ the telcos to improve, they continue to mint money by ignoring it. A company that does not have the infrastructure to provide a satisfactory service as per the parameters has neither the right to function nor to expand its subscriber net.
The government needs to ensure that companies which thrive in defiance, default and recalcitrance should not, any further, be allowed to continue to run a roaring business at the cost of the consumer. Higher spectrums like 3G and 4G too should be denied to those telcos which have failed to come up to government and consumer expectations.
Amba Charan Vashishth (The writer is an analyst of matters and events)