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Most subscribers unhappy with service operators: HT Survey

A Hindustan Times-C Fore survey of users across India reveals that more than three out of five users face call drops one or two times out of 10 while 45 pc say they face billing-related problems “often” or “sometimes”. Manoj Gairola reports.HT C Fore Survey

india Updated: Jan 20, 2009 01:38 IST
Manoj Gairola

If your telecom service provider has failed you over the past 12 months — your calls have got disconnected on their own or, say, you have been overbilled — you are not alone.

A Hindustan Times-C Fore survey of users across India reveals that more than three out of five users face call drops one or two times out of 10. As many as 45 per cent say they face billing-related problems “often” or “sometimes”. And only two out of five users are satisfied with the customer care response.

Bad service aside, more than one in three prepaid users say they do not get the promised talk time. The frustration level is so high among users that two out of five say they will change their operator if they can retain their number, making number portability a need rather than just another option.

India’s telecom revolution is running out of positive signals. The reason for poor quality of services: operators do not want to invest in upgrading their networks to serve a user base that grew at one million per month in 2008, the fastest in the world.

This is clear from the internal data of a leading national telecom operator, available with HT.

In 13 telecom circles (boundaries of a telecom circle roughly coincide with those of a state), the operator’s network is overloaded.

This means, the number of subscribers exceeds the network’s capacity. In some states, the network is running at over 120 per cent capacity. The number should be below 100 per cent, ideally around 90 per cent, according to experts.

Nripendra Misra, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), says: “In a majority of cases it is design and maintenance issue of service providers.” In simple English: operators have not upgraded network.

“All networks were initially designed for a certain capacity,” says a former head of a leading Europe-based telecom vendor and former CEO of a new national operator. “Now, the thumb rule is that the towers and transmission equipment should be increased in proportion with subscribers. This has clearly not happened in India.”

The problem, says Department of Telecommunications secretary Siddhartha Behura, “will automatically be resolved when there is more competition. Our job is to ensure more competition.”

Low spectrum allotted to operators is another reason. All the four GSM operators in London have less than 50 subscribers per sq km per MHz. On the other hand, two market leaders in Delhi and Mumbai have over 200 subscribers per sq km per MHz.

So, while high competition has kept prices low, it has added to spectrum woes. In India, there are up to seven operators in a city. China has only three operators. The division of spectrum decreases efficiency, experts say.

“All over the world one operator normally gets 20 MHz of spectrum,” says T.V. Ramachandran, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India. “In India, the start-up spectrum allotted is only 4.4 Mhz and the maximum is 10 MHz.”

Manoj Kohli, joint managing director and CEO, Bharti Airtel, says: “If the process of spectrum allocation is improved, we’re sure that the quality of the network will be further enhanced.”

Network managers such as Ericsson and Nokia-Siemens have an altogether different story to tell. “We need towers in right places to cover dark spots in the city — for example, in the Lutyens’ bungalow zone in Delhi,” says P. Balaji, vice-president, marketing and strategy, Ericsson market unit (India and Sri Lanka), the largest vendor in India. “However, operators are not given sites for towers due to government restrictions.”