Airtel scraps roaming charges on calls, data

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New Delhi: Roaming on your mobile network may soon happen at no extra cost as telecom companies are scrapping the additional charges on incoming and outgoing calls, spurred by zero roaming charges offered by Reliance Jio and state-owned BSNL.

Airtel, the country’s biggest telecom company, on Monday announced the ‘Death of National Roaming’ as it unveiled plans to do away with roaming charges from April 1. “Starting April 1, Airtel customers roaming within India will enjoy free incoming calls/SMS and there will be no premium on outgoing calls allowing them to speak freely wherever they are within the country. Also, there will be no additional data charges on national roaming,” the company said. “Home data packs for customers will apply even while they roam across India.”

Vodafone and Idea Cellular, which offer some benefits partially or through specially-designed ‘roaming-free packs’, are expected to follow suit in the coming days.

Roaming charges — billed when a customer travels outside his/her home circle — were viewed as impractical with increasing competition in the telecom industry and Jio and BSNL abolishing them. “This marks the death of national roaming and the whole country will now be like a local network for our customers, who will not have to think twice before making or receiving calls or using data while travelling outside their home base,” said Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO (India & South Asia) for Bharti Airtel.

The company also said that there will be “no bill shocks while roaming overseas” as daily billing will be automatically adjusted to the price of basic one-day pack even for customers who don’t buy a roaming pack. Giving an example, the company, said, “When a customer travelling to the US without a pack hits the threshold of Rs 649 (the price of one-day pack designated for the country), he/she will automatically move to the one-day pack with free incoming calls/SMS, 100 India and local country outgoing minutes, 300 MB data and a host of other benefits.”

BSNL was the first company to abolish roaming charges on its network when in the middle of 2015, it decided to discontinue any extra charges for calls made outside a subscriber’s home circle. And with Jio also opting for zero charges on roaming (it offers lifetime free voice across plans) from September last year, the days of roaming were numbered.
Asked to comment on the development, Vodafone India said it already offers incoming calls free on national roaming “unlike Airtel that charges for the same currently.”
“We have been offering the same to our subscribers since November. As regards outgoing calls being offered at home rates, we will ensure that our consumers continue to enjoy the best value on the Vodafone network and will ensure that we continue to offer a competitive proposition on our network,” a company spokesperson said.

Telecom industry analysts said that tariffs in the domestic telecom market will continue to remain aggressive, especially after the massive churn expected following the entry of Jio. A wave of consolidation is already sweeping the industry with Idea and Vodafone talking merger and Airtel scooping up the operations of Telenor. “The telecom industry will become leaner, but continue to remain aggressive,” a leading analyst said, requesting anonymity.