Take action on interconnect issue, or we will: Trai to telcos
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has told India’s top telcos and Reliance Jio Infocomm to resolve the contentious interconnect matter among themselves, but warned that it would act if quality of service drops and consumers suffer.
“If quality of service suffers, if consumers suffer, Trai will take action. That is Trai’s job,” a senior official told ET on Friday after the meeting. “The telcos should sit across the table and resolve it.”
Both the warring parties — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular on one side and Jio on the other — appeared conciliatory after the meeting called to resolve a bitter battle over granting points of interconnections (PoIs) to Jio. Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio said it had sought an adequate amount of PoIs while earlier it had sought PoIs for 22 million users.
Incumbents, who have been refusing to grant additional PoIs citing traffic imbalance, on Friday said they were willing to talk to Jio and provide a “reasonable number” of additional PoIs, if needed, an official at a top telco said.
But both sides didn’t specify on the number of PoIs that would be sought or given. PoIs are used to connect calls from one telecom operator to another. Jio says incumbent telcos haven’t provided enough PoIs resulting in its users facing huge call drop issues, while its rivals say enough have already been provided. “We have asked for the right number of connect, right quantum of interconnection.
We have put forth our point of view to Trai. It is for Trai to look into the matter. There is no time frame indicated by the Trai,” Jio board member Mahendra Nahata said after the meeting. “It is a fight for justice for Indian customers, and not those of Reliance Jio, Airtel, Vodafone or Idea.”
In a statement, market leader Bharti Airtel said it will provide Jio more PoIs, as per the bilateral agreement signed between the two operators, so that customers aren’t affected. Incumbent telcos had signed interconnect pacts with Jio back in 2014.
Curbing massive traffic
Airtel, however, urged Trai to find a way to curb the massive asymmetric traffic to ensure that receiving networks are not abused by the tsunami of free traffic. “In this regard, IUC (interconnect usage charge) is an effective tool in the hands of Trai, which we hope they will use judiciously,” it said, adding that Trai should make sure pricing by any telco is “IUC compliant, non-predatory and non-discriminatory”.
India’s No. 1 operator expects interconnect to be less of an issue after Jio starts charging for its offers by January 1, 2017. “The traffic will inevitably get to a more balanced level and PoIs will be less of an issue,” indicating that it expects the volumes of traffic to fall compared with the current levels driven by Jio’s free offerings. Top telcos have earlier said they do not possess the financial or network resources to handle the imbalance of the huge traffic generated through Jio’s network due to the free offers.
Trai chairman RS Sharma did not attend the meeting, which was led by secretary Sudhir Gupta. Other Trai members, representatives of incumbent telcos that included Bharti Airtel’s chief regulatory officer Ravi Gandhi, Vodafone India’s P Balaji and Idea Cellular’s Rajat Mukarji, besides Nahata of Jio were present.
Rajan S Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents the top telcos as well as Jio, wasn’t allowed to be part of the meeting, since only the three telcos were invited, marking a dramatic start to the crucial talks. At the meeting, incumbent telcos said given the volume of traffic from Jio, they can’t give interconnect at 14 paise a minute which is very low.
Jio countered saying the rate had been preset. Incumbents also said that traffic from Jio could go up to 4,000 minutes per user a month given the free voice offering, which would be practically impossible to handle, while Jio’s officials said its traffic currently is 450 minutes per user a month.
End to stalemate’
Speaking to reporters later in day, Mathews said the meeting with Trai was able to ‘somewhat’ bring an end to a stalemate between Jio and incumbent carriers and the interconnection issue is expected to be sorted out within 90 days. “This is a bilateral issue between an individual operator and Jio, and within 90 days, it is likely to be settled.
Trai asked to increase points of interconnections incrementally. The regulator’s concern was to improve service quality,” Mathews said. “We expect Reliance Jio to start discussions with incumbent players and regulator should look into incremental numbers.” During the meeting, incumbent telcos had sought clarity on whether the services of Jio were now “commercial”.
When told they were, incumbents pointed out that Jio then can’t offer free services for more than 90 days. Sources at incumbent telcos also said they believe adequate PoIs have already been given for Jio which currently has some five million users, but are willing to give more once 70% capacity is reached for those existing PoIs.
According to them, one PoI can support 12,000 subscribers, with Airtel itself having provided 700 of them. “As and when they (Jio) reach 70% capacity, they can request us, and we will provide incremental PoIs within 90 days.
But we can’t be providing PoIs for 100 million customers or even one-fifth of that now as they entail capex,” a senior official at a top telco said. The person said Jio had given an undertaking before Trai that it won’t use the existing PoIs for terminating internet telephony calls, such as WhatsApp to WhatsApp or Skype to Skype.
But sources at Jio denied any such undertaking, saying the telco had only said they are not terminating any such calls as of now.