Mobile Tower.. Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, Sep 23 : A fierce war is currently on between Airtel and VodafoneIdea and Reliance Jio over capturing more call traffic in a scenario of inter-operator traffic imbalance which has come out in the open following TRAI's two consultation papers including one deferring zero IUC (Interconnect Usage Charges) deadline to beyond March 2020.

While Airtel and VodafoneIdea allege that Jio is tricking the IUC by reducing outgoing call ringing time to 20 seconds from the standard practice of 45 seconds, Jio said all calls including on net and off net in Jio have a call ringing time of 20 seconds. Jio further alleged incumbents have a ringing time of 30 seconds as opposed to their claim of 45 seconds.

The 4G telco said the incumbent operators are gaming the IUC regime by charging their 2G/3G customers high voice tariffs, as these customers are not able to move to the efficient 4G operator owing to lack of a compatible device.

The incumbents countered this. A Vodafone official said: "Our customers prefer to use a variety of handsets --2G, 3G and 4G. Accordingly we offer choice via products across technologies and customers can opt for the plan for both voice and data to meet their requirements." An Airtel official said: "Seven operators have shut down their shops. If we are charging high, many operators are making losses, could that have been possible? IUC are tariffs are not related and tariff is under forbearance and we can have any type of tariff plan as long we are are not breaching the predatory pricing norm." Jio's argument was that IUC is a subsidy that new operators pay to incumbent operators.

"It is also a subsidy that the more efficient operators pay to the less efficient operators. The less efficient operators charge higher tariffs from their customers, who therefore do not make outgoing calls but only receive incoming calls," a Jio official said.

Reliance Jio is the only operator in the country which has a 4G-only network. All other telcos have 2G and 3G as well.

The all-out war started a week after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) floated two separate consultation papers -- a paper to see if there is a need to revise the date for scrapping IUC, given the continuing imbalance in inter-operator traffic. Before that, it issued a discussion paper on what should be the ideal call ringing time after it received information that one operator has reduced the duration of ring to 20 seconds in its network for releasing the unanswered calls forcefully.

The Jio official said it takes investment as well as technological advancement to be able to upgrade a network to 4G. Without having done that, there cannot be symmetry in traffic, as more than 65 per cent of incumbent customers are still on 2G/3G. Unfortunately, these customer do not even have the privilege of enjoying free voice calling and end up paying exorbitant rates for voice minutes, the official added.

The Airtel official countered this, saying there is still very high asymmetry of traffic between a large 4G only operator and the other operators. Despite Jio gaining more than 32 per cent market share, Airtel and Vodafone continue to be large net recipients of calls from Jio and therefore Jio pays them IUC for carrying these calls. Airtel's traffic asymmetry with Jio still stands at approximately 65 per cent (incoming) vs 35 per cent (outgoing). And TRAI has taken this into account and now started a fresh consultation process to ensure the orderly growth of the telecom sector.

The slugfest continues with Jio's contention that in India, the operator who has spent over Rs 4 lakh crore (Jio) in setting up a best in class network has been paying IUC subsidy of hundreds of crores per month to the incumbent operators who charge high tariffs from their customers.

The 4G operator officials also added the incumbent operators have been manipulating and misleading the system to the detriment of the customers, so much so that in spite of the TRAI filing in the Supreme Court in 2012, the Bill and Keep regime has still not been implemented in India.

Airtel Officials say tariff has nothing to do with IUC, which is essentially a clearing system between two operators for carrying the calls made by one operator on the network of the other operator. So, the key is to pay for the cost of using the other operator's network, they said.

Referring to the IP technology of Jio's 4G services, the Airtel official pointed IP technology has nothing to do with the cost. This is because the cost of energy, rental and spectrum is common and has nothing to do with the technology. Anyway, since all operators now have the IP technology/networks, this issue is irrelevant.

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