Faced with Jio’s competition, Airtel may now drop roaming charges


NEW DELHI: Bharti AirtelBSE -1.49 % is set to abolish domestic roaming charges on its network for both voice and data services, a person familiar with the matter said, matching a key offer by rival Reliance Jio Infocomm, the entry of which has triggered a price war in India.

“The company is all set to offer free incoming calls/ SMSes on national roaming and there will be no premium on outgoing calls,” the person told ET, adding that there will be no additional data charges on national roaming.

The company is also planning to simplify activation and billing for consumers who travel overseas in a bid to encourage subscribers to use its international roaming packs. Bharti, India’s biggest phone company, declined to comment.

The move will benefit Bharti’s 268 million mobile customers, with high-end bundled plans that offer free calling currently limited to a small segment of subscribers.

Faced with Jio's competition, Airtel may now drop roaming charges

Besides, the move is likely to force rival Vodafone India and Idea CellularBSE -1.34 %, the country’s No. 2 and 3 telcos, to follow suit in a bid to protect their subscriber base, already under threat from Jio’s free voice and data offers, which includes free roaming.
Last October, Vodafone made incoming calls to its network free while on roaming. However, roaming charges on outgoing calls or on data usage continue to apply to its customers.

The move could dent Bharti’s revenue as well—roaming accounts for a 3-4.5% share. But incumbents don’t have too many options to ring fence their customer base from Jio.

Bharti reported a 55% plunge in net profit in the December quarter, its worst in four years, on a first-time drop in revenue, while Idea posted its first ever net loss since listing in 2007.

Standard tariffs, if a Bharti subscriber doesn’t activate a roaming pack, are currently in line with the ceiling mandated by the telecom regulator. The standard rates are 80 paise per minute for a local call, Rs 1.15 per minute for an STD call and 45 paise per minute for an incoming call.

Airtel’s move comes as Jio has announced it will start charging users from April 1, albeit at sharply discounted rates.

Existing users and those coming on board by March 31 will continue to get 1 GB of data a day and all of Jio’s apps for Rs 303 a month and a one-time cost ofRs 99. Voice, including roaming, is free for life on Jio.