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Telcos contest call-drop test drive, accuse Trai of bad faith

By Malini Bhupta
June 03, 2016 13:06 IST
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Telcos say tests were done in the known problematic areas of Delhi-NCR, where operators face issues in obtaining cell sites.

The relationship between telecom operators and the sector regulator has hit a new low.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), lobby group of GSM service providers, has accused the regulator of carrying out its recent test drive for call drops only in problematic areas.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had done a test drive in parts of Delhi and its suburbs, which showed most telcos didn’t meet the benchmark quality on call drops.

The acceptable standard is two per cent and most telcos showed a much higher call drop rate in Trai’s test drive.

COAI has punched holes in Trai’s test drive and alleged the tests were done in the known problematic areas, where operators face issues in obtaining cell sites.

Rajan Mathews, director-general of COAI, told this newspaper: “Trai is continuously trying to beat us up and that creates noise, which is not helpful at all. To take a minority area and say it is symptomatic of the entire service area, is misleading.” 

It is common knowledge the industry has been facing difficulties in getting cell sites in many parts of the national capital region (NCR).

While the area of Delhi-NCR is 46,208 sq km, these results are limited to a route covering 600 sq km.

Hence, the quality of service (QoS) results from the test are not strictly comparable with the standard QoS for dropped calls, regularly published by Trai for the entire service area, claims Mathews.

Also, COAI says the results should not be confused with the standard QoS mandated by Trai and computed for the whole licensed service area, or LSA (all cell sites in the LSA).

The industry body says for a fair and accurate picture, the issue of Quality of Service and call drops has to be seen in a holistic manner for the entire LSA and not just in select pockets.

COAI claims the operators are in compliance with the benchmark set by Trai of less than two per cent, as in the previously published QoS results of September 2015.

The Trai report showed a majority of the call drops happening in the four areas of central Delhi, Dwarka & IGI Airport, Gurgaon & Manesar and Noida & Mayur Vihar.

The airport region has large areas of military property; only recently has the ministry of communications opened defence land for setting up of telecom infrastructure. COAI also points to the city's civic body sealing over 400 towers in recent months.

In Noida-Mayur Vihar, the industry says, at least 250 towers were shut by the municipal authoritiesin 2015.

The story is the same in Gurgaon-Manesar. More, in the NCR, there have been concerns raised about location of towers.

The Trai report itself acknowledges that a majority of the call drop instances are in these problematic locations.

The lobby group has also contested the measurement practices used by the outsourced agency/vendor (Phistream Consulting) in conducting the test drive, which vary from those adopted by the operators.

Members say they said so to Trai and these remain unresolved.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down the Trai’s order levying a penalty of Re 1 for every call drop.

A Bench of judges Kurian Joseph and R F Nariman said: “We have held the impugned regulation to be ultra vires, arbitrary, unreasonable and non-transparent.”

The regulator came out with its Drive Test results after the court order, which it carried out in select problematic pockets of Delhi. 

According to Mathews, resolution of the call drop problem in the known difficult areas will not happen through the imposition of penalties but by a partnership between the industry, DoT, urban ministry and local governments, among others, to facilitate and hasten the approvals of required cell sites.

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Malini Bhupta in Mumbai
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