Who Is To Blame For Call Drop Menace?
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If you're a mobile phone user in the country, especially in a congested metro like Delhi or Mumbai, chances are you know what a call drop is, a little too well. The call drop menace became so serious that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to intervene and demand urgent corrective actions.
Plagued by the vexed problem of call drops, the Union government has warned telecom companies to get their act right on the issue or face action, while the regulator Trai gave them 15 days' time to address the problem.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has found a two-fold jump in call drops on 2G networks and by 65 per cent on 3G networks in the first quarter of 2015. Industry average of call drops at the end of the January-March 2015 period was 12.5 per cent compared with 6 per cent at the end of March 2014 on 2G networks.
On 3G network, the call drop average across networks was 15.96 per cent during the three-month period ended March 31, 2015, compared with 9.68 per cent a year ago.
A recent survey by the Trai has also found that India has one of the worst call drop ratios in the world-around 12 per cent, four times the globally acceptable 3 per cent.
At present, the Trai levies penalty on telecom operators for failing to meet service quality benchmarks. According to the rule, call drops should not be more than 2 per cent of all calls made on a network in a service area. The regulator proposed that any call that gets dropped within five seconds would not be charged, and in case a call gets dropped any time after five seconds, the last pulse of the call would not be charged.
The problem of frequent call drops has worsened in the recent months. Operators have cited shutting down of towers, radiation fears and the lack of spectrum as the major reasons behind call drops. The operators have said about 7,000-10,000 sites have been locked or shut down across major cities and have sought a uniform national policy for the installation of towers.
Experts believe that the Department of Telecom (DoT) should invoke Section 7 of the Indian Telegraph Act to formulate clear and uniform rules for installation of towers which would have to be mandatorily followed all over the country.
The moot question is: do companies benefit from engineering phone calls to drop midway?
It depends on the tariff plan. If it's measured in seconds, the telecom company gains nothing - no matter how many times the connection breaks, billing resumes at the same rate. But if it is measured in minutes, or if the plan contains features such as a certain number of free calls in every billing cycle, call drops hurt the consumer. However, telecom companies claim 95 per cent of tariff plans involve billing in seconds.
Call drops occur because of inadequate coverage, weak signals from cell towers and congestion. Mobile phones work using radio waves in the frequency range of 300 MHz and 3,000 MHz. But the entire range is not available for use. Critically, the lower the number, the better the quality of transmission.
"Call drops are rising in India due to overloaded spectrum networks since we have the lowest quantum of radiowaves available per million. The 3G rollout has been patchy. So, customers continue to use 2G for voice as well as data, causing more congestion. The radiation norms also limit the number of cell towers that can be placed within an area," Hemant Joshi, partner at Deloitte Haskins & Sells, told The Telegraph.
A telco with less spectrum per subscriber will need more towers to alleviate the congestion in a network. And spectrum is a scarce resource in India, which has the second-largest mobile phone user base in the world with more than 975 million users.
Fear of radiation from cell phone towers is often cited as a key reason why the telecom companies are unable to improve their network. Cancer-causing radiation concerns are largely unfounded, however. India has the most stringent norms for radiation from telecom towers, set at one-tenth the limit set in most other countries. Union telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said such campaigns against mobile phone towers are basically wrong. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has conducted deep study on the issue and has declared that the notion of radiation harm by mobile towers is wrong.
Even studies by independent agencies have indicated that inadequate towers and spectrum cannot be solely blamed for the poor service quality. PhiMetrics Technologies, a company specialising in telecom audits and analytics, recently came out with a report on service quality in Delhi and said that lack of cell sites and spectrum do not adequately explain at least 30-40 per cent customer issues related to calls, according to a report in The Times of India.