Airtel and Vodafone fight with Jio over network testing

India’s top two telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India sparred with newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm at an open house discussion on Friday over modalities of testing of a network ahead of a commercial roll-out.
While the incumbents said the users acquired for trial purposes should be restricted, not allowed to enrol for commercial services and not offered mobile number portability, Jio differed, saying such moves will disrupt a seamless move from trials to commercial operations.
At the discussion on network testing before a commercial launch, Bharti Airtel’s chief regulatory officer Ravi Gandhi said that test users should not be allowed to migrate to commercial services.
“There should not be subscriber acquisition in the name of testing, and there should be a time-limit for a network trial service,” Gandhi said, adding that load testing has never been done with subscribers worldwide.
A Jio executive, however, said that telcos should be allowed to enrol test users and no restriction should be imposed so that they can seamlessly migrate after a commercial launch.
The rules, the executive said, should be such that customers should be told of the test phase and, at the end, asked to migrate to commercial services.
“As the operator is in compliance with necessary criteria and lawful interception, there is no need to put restriction that would have an adverse impact and such a restriction would be counter-productive and operators should be given a free hand,” the Jio executive said.
Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio launched 4G-based telecom services in September last year after a closed-door roll-out for parent Reliance Industries’ employees and their families as well as retail partners in December 2015.
The incumbents had alleged that Jio had started offering commercial services and adding subscribers even before September in the guise of testing its network.
They have also objected to the latest consultation paper on testing alleging that the damage had already been done when Jio was allowed to carry on with signing on subscribers before September, and the latest paper was too late. Jio had earlier denied any wrongdoing.
Vodafone India said that acquiring test users before launch of service was against licence conditions. It said that the ongoing consultation cannot deal with this as a prospective issue as the past issues around Jio were relevant for initiation of the current consultation.
Sundeep Kathuria, executive vice president-policy and regulation at Vodafone India, said that in June 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had itself raised the issue with the Department of Telecom as to whether the five lakh SIMs issued by Jio were in compliance with the rules, which was the background of DoT’s reference dated September 9, 2016, leading to the present consultation.
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