Sometime over the next few months, the number of mobile subscribers in India will cross one billion. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) put the number at 973 million at the end of April. That means more than 80%, or three out of four Indians, have a phone connection. The country is now far more digitally inclusive than it is economically. If mobile phones have democractised communications by dismantling class barriers, social media has become the logical next step for staying connected in India to do almost everything: Share photos, exchange thoughts, keep the world posted on what’s crossing their minds and hunt for jobs. Add to this 17 billion minutes of phone calls made and 1.7 billion text messages sent every day, India is one big digital network that is growing at a very fast clip.
The menace of call drops needs to be seen in this context. On Tuesday, the Centre ordered a special audit of the quality of service in metros and state capitals to find out what lies at the root of the problem. Call drops happen because of a variety of reasons. Weak signals from cell towers and congestion is said to be the most dominant cause.
Some telecom operators point out that erecting new telecom towers is that much more difficult now because of local state rules. In the last one and a half years, India has added about 20,000 towers, far lower than the 60,000 towers required to support the subscriber addition of about 5 million a month. Cracked and disconnected calls can also potentially upset the government’s ambitious campaign to bridge India’s digital divide and make governance more technology-enabled and efficient.
The ability to make uninterrupted phone calls should be a given if India were to fulfil its promise to encourage start-up enterprises, improve systems, remove bureaucratic sloth and reduce red-tape. The telecom revolution has been aided by competition that has benefited the consumer. It is only natural that the issue of call drops be given primacy over everything else.