Airtel alleged that “one large 4G-only operator” has slashed ring time for outgoing calls to other networks.
Without naming Reliance Jio directly, Bharti Airtel has alleged that it was gaming the interconnect usage system by reducing its outgoing call ringing time. It added that the change in pattern results in a missed call, and forces the call receiver on another network to dial back and, hence, create incoming call traffic for Jio.
This diverted incoming traffic would help Jio, which has just 36% of its total voice traffic as incoming calls, make 6 paise on every call that lands on its network, Airtel, India’s second-largest operator by revenue, has alleged. Interconnect usage charge, or IUC, is levied by mobile networks handling incoming calls from rival networks. At present, the IUC is at 6 paise a minute.
Airtel’s allegation comes a week after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) floated two separate consultation papers. On 18 September, the regulator floated a fresh consultation paper to see if there was a need to revise the date for scrapping IUC, given the continuing imbalance in inter-operator traffic.
On 16 September also, TRAI had issued a consultation paper to decide the ideal call ringing time, after receiving complaints that an operator had reduced the duration to 20 seconds on its network. “This could be true (one large 4G-only particular operator gaming the IUC regime),” an Airtel official said, requesting anonymity without naming Jio. Reliance Jio is the only operator in the country which has a 4G-only network. All other telcos have 2G and 3G as well.
“For example, if one operator reduces the ringing time for outgoing calls to other networks (say from 45 seconds to 20 seconds) it leads to a lot of customer inconvenience since the calls are cut off even before the receiving customer had the time to pick it up,” the official added.
Once a customer receives a missed call he or she usually calls back the originating operator’s network. “By converting such outgoing calls to incoming calls, one large operator is not only getting IUC from other operators but also trying to reduce the asymmetry of traffic artificially. This is to show symmetry in traffic in the run-up to the proposed implementation of zero IUC,” the official alleged.
Jio, on the other hand, has alleged that while the incumbent operators have a ringing time of 30 seconds, globally, most operators have an average ringing time of 15-20 seconds, which includes Vodafone UK. “25-30% of calls landing onto the large 4G operator’s network are missed calls. Users from incumbents network, who are paying ₹1.5/min for calls, request Jio users to make a free voice call to them by giving a missed call, thereby creating this traffic mismatch. Incumbent operators are creating this mismatch and wanting to monetize it, too, by asking for 6p/min IUC revenue,” a Jio official said, requesting anonymity.
Jio has also alleged that if all operators were made to upgrade their networks to 4G and charge their customers at par, there will not be any traffic asymmetry. We have ascertained that a call made from Jio to Vodafone rang for 20 seconds, while a call from Vodafone to Jio lasted 44 seconds.
Email queries to Airtel and Jio were unanswered till press time.
In September 2017, Trai reduced IUC to 6 paise per minute, effective 1 October 2017 and to zero from 1 January 2020. Earlier it was 14 paise. Incumbents, already reeling under the fierce price war triggered by the launch of Reliance Jio in September 2016, were severely impacted by the Trai order. Airtel and Vodafone resisted the change, while Jio was in favor.