Incumbent telcos accuse RJio of choking their networks; appeal to Dept of Telecom, not TRAI
What has been till date a closed group discussion has now come out in the open as a war with incumbent service telecom providers accusing Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio (RJio) of choking their network through heavy voice call traffic. What is more surprising in this matter is, industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), instead of raising this matter with the telecom regulator, has requested intervention from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). RJio is also a member of the industry body. This shows that the incumbent telcos are not happy with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as far as the competition and allowing extended trials to RJio is concerned.
Incumbent operators alleged that RJio is offering full-fledged services under the garb of testing, thus violating rules governing interconnection, pricing and competition.
In a letter to Telecom Secretary JS Deepak, the COAI said, "This is no test. This is the provisioning of full-blown and full-fledged services, masquerading as test, which bypass regulations and can potentially game policy features like the interconnection regime, non-predatory pricing and fair competition.”
RJio has been conducting trials of its 4G services since December last year. In the first stage, it offered connections to its employees. In the second stage, RJio allowed these employees to invite 10 people to test the network.
COAI alleged that RJio users are consuming about 25-30 times more data than the average Indian user and 8-10 times the global benchmark as its services are free. In addition, the voice traffic emanating from RJio is burdening points of interconnet (PoIs), which is affecting subscribers of other telcos, the industry body alleged.
But RJio countered it by saying, despite keeping the regulator and the DoT informed about the points of inter-connect, it was not being provided with adequate access to terminate the calls/data -- an issue, which was raised at various forums. "In fact, during the test trial process, there have been severe quality issues on termination of calls from RJio's network to other operators' network, precisely owing to this issue," it said, counter-accusing the existing players of deliberate attempt to muzzle such access.
The industry body also demanded RJio should cut all connections (about 15 lakh) for the extended trials.
Responding to the allegations, RJio said, the extensive tests being carried out for Jio 4G services before a full-fledged launch not only have legal sanctity, but are also aimed at ensuring a high quality offering in a market, where call drops have become common place. “At the outset, the contents of the said letter from COAI are malicious, unfounded, ill-informed, and frivolous and are contrary to actual facts," said two letters from the company, one addressed to the Telecom Commission and the other to TRAI.
The company also quoted what it thought were relevant portions of its licencing pacts. "In view of the above said provisions of the unified license, it is reiterated the test trials being conducted by RJio are well within the scope of the terms and conditions of the unified license," said the letters from RJio.
COAI also accused the telecom regulator TRAI of favouring the Mukesh Ambani-led telco. In a press release, the industry body said, “….the bias is also evident from the fact that TRAI, in an unprecedented move, reduced the block size of 2,300MHz band spectrum from 20MHz to 10MHz, only to accommodate existing BWA holders who would have otherwise crossed the band-specific cap beyond 30MHz.”
RJio is the only operator that has pan-India 2,300 MHz band.
“A clear, stable and predictable policy environment is the cornerstone of any regulatory regime that fosters industry growth and customer services. Over the past few months, the industry has seen an unprecedented deluge of discussion papers from TRAI. Some of the consultation papers appear to be heavily loaded in favour of new players and point towards a bias against the existing operators. We hope that TRAI will take a more balanced view on issues impacting the entire industry and ensure a level playing field,” the release from COAI says.
In the release, the industry body also cited some instances, like regulation of charges for termination of internet telephony calls, and call drops regulation, which was set aside by the Supreme Court.
RJio said, "We state that all steps taken by COAI, in last few days by issuing press releases, alleging unfounded biases with the regulator, and by writing letters against the test trials are in fact attempts to sabotage the market entry of RJio, a new player, and malign its name."
It has also sought the intervention of the authorities, and the COAI, in ensuring that existing players comply with licencing agreements and augment the points of inter-connect with RJio -- as it would otherwise be tantamount to a breach of regulations.