Bharti Airtel, India’s largest phone operator, agreed to provide additional points of interconnection to 4G entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm following bilateral talks, indicating that a slugfest between telecom companies over this contentious issue is thawing.
The total number of interconnect points to be given to Jio would “become three times the current level,” Bharti Airtel said. This would be sufficient to serve over 15 million customers and is significantly higher than Jio’s existing customer base, it said.
Industry experts estimate Jio’s current user base at about 5 million, although the Mukesh Ambani controlled telco hasn’t confirmed the figure. The number of points of interconnection (PoIs) now provided by Airtel to Jio is more than 2,000, people aware of the matter said. However, sources told ET a day earlier that Jio is likely to demand 6,500-7,000 additional PoIs from the three incumbents on “an immediate basis,” in line with its subscriber base/voice traffic growth estimates.
Jio didn’t comment on the matter Tuesday. Airtel’s decision comes after Idea Cellular said Monday it would release an additional 196 PoIs for Jio. The top three operators – Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea – had balked at giving additional PoIs to Jio, which launched services on September 5, saying the new entrant’s offer of free calls would overwhelm their networks.
Sources added that Airtel and other incumbents are suffering losses on each call made to their network from Jio while abiding with the regulator-set interconnect, or call termination, charge of 14 paise per minute.
They have asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to reconsider the rate, given the imbalance in the flow of calls. India’s No. 1 mobile carrier, which had more than 255 million mobile subscribers at the end of June, said since it had agreed to release additional PoIs to Jio, “it would also need to take cognisance of the massive asymmetry in the volume of traffic between the two networks and ensure quality of service for Airtel customers isn’t impacted.”
Bharti Airtel said it expects the telecom regulator to look into the issue of asymmetric traffic on an urgent basis and ensure that massive volumes of free calls terminating on Airtel’s network do not adversely impact its network. Airtel told ET that it had invited Jio for a discussion to understand its additional requirements and would be happy to provide more Po-Is.