Either Airtel is really worried about its subscribers or this is just a marketing gimmick under the banner of the company’s new open network. Whatever it may be, the company’s CEO Gopal Vittal seems to be asking people to tell the company where its next towers would be placed.
In a mail, which was sent out to all Airtel subscribers, Vittal asked users to partner with the company to decide where the next towers should be put up to plug call drops. “At some locations we need to install new towers. In some others, towers have been forcibly shut down. We want to overcome this challenge and we want you to be a part of the solution,” Vittal’s mail said.
The mail seems like an obvious strategy to lobby with the government for towers in residential areas as it has been cracking down on call drops, and has stated that call drops shouldn’t account for more than 2% of all calls made from a particular network. Although Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) experts have claimed that radiation from electro-magnetic fields (EMF) of mobile towers does not appear to have “adverse health effects” either on adults or on children in the country, residents still have reservations against it.
“A number of judgements delivered by the High Courts in Gujarat, Kerala, Allahabad, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh have ruled that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that EMF radiation emitted from mobile towers has adverse effects on health. Thus, they cannot potentially harm humans,” Trai advisor (B&CS) Agneshwar Sen has said.
The mail also says that Airtel doesn’t want to keep secrets and will show where the current towers are. It also says it will share with subscribers which ones it plans to upgrade.
It also asks subscribers to let Airtel know when they face network issues. “Yes there are coverage holes in India that are still a challenge. And we will not keep them hidden from you because we don’t want you to keep them hidden for us. After all, the more open questions you ask, the more open answers we can give,” it says.
Airtel’s open network is a continuation to Airtel’s Project Leap program which started in 2015. Under the open network, users can access information about tower maps, weak spots, strong signal zones and high- speed internet.
Will the ground reality change?
An Airtel spokesperson also said that nothing will change on the ground – just that it helps users to know what the condition of the network is and any issue can be reported to Airtel.
But can’t users call the customer care of Airtel if there is a connectivity issue? The user can, and an Airtel executive pays a visit. That doesn’t change – even after opening the network, the same executive will visit you.
The network was opened seven months after Vittal wrote a letter to Airtel’s customers on November 15 that the company will make its services better. That was also the beginning of Project Leap, where Airtel committed that it will spend Rs 60,000 in three years. It has spent Rs 15,000 crore, so far – all to upgrade its network.
To be sure, Airtel is not the only company which has spent a bomb on infrastructure.
Vodafone India, as a part of Project Spring, has spent Rs 18,000 crore ($3 billion) on upgrading network, last year.
However, the network condition in India remains a big problem. In Bhopal, for example, every other operator except Airtel and Vodafone failed to meet the government’s call drop norm. That’s because in India networks operate at over 95% utilisation (leading to congestion), while the global average is 70-80%.
Why the project or this gimmick?
Obviously Airtel wants to show that it is caught between a rock and a hard place. While the government is cracking down on telecom companies to cut call drops, it has no place to setup new towers to plug call drops. Some of its towers have been forcibly shut down keeping in mind radiation levels which might have long standing effects on health. Essentially, this is a way to make subscribers aware of the situation and get them to sympathise with the company.