Mahesh Bhatia conducts a majority of his business over his mobile phone. But the connection is so poor that he often has to make three or four calls to complete a single conversation.
“Clients frequently accuse me of deliberately disconnecting calls to avoid having to address their problems,” said Bhatia. His firm, GD Enterprises in Meharuli, near Delhi, provides school furniture and maintenance services for a prominent public school in the National Capital Region.
Millions of telecom subscribers across the country face this same problem. “It’s irritating – and expensive. On average, every mobile user in India makes at least three calls to complete a single conversation,” said Saleem Ahemad, vice president, Telecom Users Group, a TRAI-registered consumer group. That means consumers pay call charges three times to complete one call.
Telecom Users’s Group conducted a study on this issue last year and plans to conduct similar studies every year to track the quality of calls offered by telcos. Consumers have little hope of getting any immediate relief. The telecom infrastructure in India is woefully inadequate. Against a requirement of 625,000 telecom towers to service India’s 900 million mobile subscribers, there are only 425,000 such towers across the country.
“India needs a minimum of 200,000 additional towers to ensure robust connectivity for calls and data,” said Umang Das, director general, Tower & Infrastructure Providers Association (TIPA), the apex body of telecom tower companies that rent out towers to telcos. At an average cost of Rs 5 lakh per tower, it will require an investment of about Rs 10,000 crore to bridge the gap.
“Then, telecom companies are not investing in technologies that can offer optimum spectrum utilisation. So, the quality of service suffers,” said Ahemad. HT contacted all major telcos – Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices – for comments but all of them declined.
Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents all the telecom majors except Reliance Communications and Tata, blames lack of adequate spectrum for the problem.
Mathews also vehemently denied that operators are gaining from call drops. “The quarterly results of most operators will show that the voice minutes has fallen or remained same.
Further, customers do not make a second call; when a call drops, they use whatsapp or similar apps. Hence, operators are not making profits from call drops.”