About six million new users join the mobile phone market every month in India, which, with 166 million users, is the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market. The added advantage lies in telecom operators offering both GSM (global system of mobile communications) and CDMA (code division multiple access) options for users. CDMA-based players like Reliance and Tata Indicom have led the price battle from the front. This battle to keep existing customers and winning new ones touched a new peak this week with Reliance offering roaming calls for customers within its own network for as low as 40 paise per minute. Both Bharti and Reliance now offer lifetime validity for incoming calls for under Rs 500. Talk plans are getting cheaper and competing firms offer all kinds of combinations to attract and retain consumers.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) keeps announcing measures that enable — and force — operators to offer cheaper rates. This is creditable. Its abolition of roaming rentals last February is the trigger that set off the latest price cuts. Typically, whenever one operator offers cheaper rates, its rivals fall in line. While that is welcome, the focus must now shift to better customer service and addressing call drops. Operators seek higher traffic, but nurturing quality of service is imperative. This involves boosting network efficiency in quality. Trai’s studies generally show up telecom operators to be laggards in this game. However, for the vast millions of India, who have never seen even a landline connection, the current price war is a godsend.
Technology and competition are doing wonders to vegetable vendors and high-flying executives alike. A lot still needs to be done in expanding networks to rural areas and interiors of the hinterland. But, for the moment, increasingly efficient technologies and increasingly desperate competitors are doing wonders for the consumer. Now, if only the petroleum industry could discover such virtues.