Telcos propose 100-day action plan to address call-drop issue

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Under pressure from various quarters over increasing call drops, executives from telecom companies met government officials on Friday with a proposal to invest at least Rs.12,000 crore and install 60,000 additional BTS (base transceiver stations) in 100 days to improve the network quality in the country, a top government official said.

The move comes even as the department of telecom (DoT) is examining a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) proposal to amend the Trai Act to recommend a jail term of two years and penalties up to Rs.10 crore for non-compliance with provisions.

However, the DoT secretary did not agree that jail terms will help.

“I don’t know if penal powers will be the final solution to this. In my personal opinion, I don’t agree that for every call drop a person has to be sent to jail, even if he is a telecom operator. It is much more sophisticated, more difficult and requires much more efforts than all this. But we will take a view on what Trai has recommended,” J.S. Deepak, secretary, DoT told reporters after meeting representatives from all the telecom companies, including Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd which is yet to begin commercial operations.

Trai’s request for more powers is aimed at protecting consumers by enhancing choice, improving service quality and protecting their data. It is also aimed at improving the quality of disclosure by telcos to consumers and the regulator,Mint reported on 7 June.

In order to improve their network coverage, Deepak said, the telecom companies aim to have automated optimization of 150,000 BTS across the country and 700 new BTS in Delhi itself, which will be shared by all seven operators. “Figures in many areas have improved but still the QoS (quality of service) is not satisfactory and lots need to be done by the industry,” he said.

The DoT secretary added that the government will extend necessary support for installing towers in terms of permission grants and is also launching an EMF (electromagnetic frequency) portal in the next month for consumer awareness. This portal will provide location and radiation details of 430,000 towers which will have approximately 1.3 million BTS to facilitate setting up of towers with consumer permission.

On Friday, Delhi Development Authority also announced an amendment to withdraw rules prohibiting installation of mobile towers in residential areas, Deepak said.

DoT and the telcos agreed to have quarterly meetings on the issue.

Rajan S. Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said that the industry will look to improve network coverage by focusing on addition of new sites, optimization of existing networks, solving interference issues and shutdown of towers by local municipalities.

“These are things that we are working on to improve the issue of call drops,” Mathews said.

Trai’s first independent test drive on dropped calls, conducted in Delhi, showed that most telecom operators failed to meet the call drop benchmark set by it. Similar results were found when such a study was conducted in Hyderabad on 9 June. Trai has said it intends to conduct such tests in 11 more cities and announce results by mid-June.

Mathews said COAI has differences with Trai over such studies.

“We highlighted the fact that there are differences and obviously those are the matters that have to be resolved with Trai,” Mathews said. “It is about partnership. Putting us behind bars is not going to solve your problems. It is better that our engineers stay outdoors and help resolve the problems,” he added.