After Jio’s free offers, TRAI initiates consultation on network testing before commercial launch

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After Reliance Jio enrolled lakhs of subscribers during its test phase, TRAI has been asked by the government to come up with a framework for the testing phase of new mobile operators.

It is common for most Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) to use test SIM cards to check the quality of service and network before the commercial launch of services. This is done to confirm to the standards & regulations on quality of service as laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). But neither extensive discussions were held nor testing standards were laid down in the past. This has changed with the introduction of Reliance Jio, who enrolled lakhs of customers free of cost. Following this, many existing TSPs have requested TRAI to take a look at this issue as they were of the opinion that it is an unfair trade practice. Following the representation, TRAI has now floated a consultation paper on ‘Network Testing before Commercial Launch of Services’.

Are there any existing rules for testing?

Department of Telecom (DoT) issued a circular in 2005 on ‘subscriber base methodology’. This circular stipulates that test SIM cards are those SIMs that are given free of cost to Business Partners including roaming operators to check the Quality of Service from time to time.

Reliance Jio free offers_1.png

But there are no other guidelines on testing of network, time-line of testing, acquisition of subscribers during test-phase, limit on number of SIM cards that can be issued etc.

In the past, the TSPs were following erstwhile practices of BSNL and test SIM Cards were issued by such licensees to check the quality of network. No time limit was set for the test phase.

So why now?

After Reliance Jio rolled out free SIM cards to lakhs of customers during its test phase, the existing operators sent a representation to the government alleging that Jio was following an unfair trade practice.  In their representation, they mentioned the following reasons.

  • Enrolling of subscribers and provision of service before commercial launch of services free of cost is generating non-level playing field
  • The volume of voice traffic generated by such test users, due to free offers, is choking Points of Interconnect, and impairing the quality of service of other operators.

Jio on its part contended that LTE/ VoLTE is a new technology and its throughputs are highly dependent on Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) and hence such test trials are necessary estimate optimal network parameters in loaded condition.

The government had asked TRAI to discuss the issue in detail and suggest a framework. It is in this context that TRAI has floated the consultation paper.

What is the consultation about?

In the consultation paper, TRAI has listed the following issues for consultation.

  • Should a TSP be allowed to enroll subscribers (other than employees & business partners) as test users and should there be any restriction on the number of such test SIM cards in the testing phase?
  • How should the test phase be differentiated from the commercial launch phase? TRAI has listed some options like restricting testing within one’s own network, limit on the time period during which a subscriber can be provided free services, providing a temporary number series that would be withdrawn after the commercial launch, limiting the number of subscribers to smaller chunks by way of allotment etc.
  • Does one agree that there should be transparency in the information given to the subscribers about test SIM being temporary and that it will be deactivated after the testing phase? Should there be any additional provisions during the test phase?
  • Should there be a defined timeline for testing phase, beyond which a TSP should start offering commercial services? What should that timeline be?
  • Should subscriber related conditions & regulatory reporting requirements be laid down for testing phase also?
  • Should the test users be given the option of MNP?

TRAI has invited comments with any additional suggestions to be sent by 12th June. Comments or counter comments can be posted on the TRAI website. The comments can also be sent on email to advmn@trai.gov.in

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