NEW DELHI: The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has found that mobile phone operators are to be blamed for three of the four main reasons for call drops, underlining the need for levying penalties on carriers for poor service quality, telecom secretary Rakesh Garg said.
The department will soon write to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to expedite its recommendations on penalties for call drops, Garg told ET exclusively.
He said the sharing of airwaves — rules for which were cleared by the cabinet — should go a long way in reducing call drops. Garg added that bandwidth trading rules have been put on hold due to the industry’s concerns over double taxation and will be put up for cabinet approval once the issue is resolved.
“Our audit findings show that massive data growth choking networks, inadequate network optimization, inability to put towers and finally, lack of adequate capex are the four main reasons,” Garg said after an internal meeting of telecom department officials on the matter. The operators should be held responsible on these counts except the inability to set up towers in some urban areas.
His comments came a day after TRAI reported a jump in call drops on the 2G and 3G networks in the quarter ended March.
“Data consumption is growing by up to 80% annually, leading to choking of networks. Secondly, the number of towers has reduced owing to radiation fears and local bodies increasing rates substantially, but these are not the only reasons,” Garg said, emphasizing that telecom operators themselves weren’t doing enough to tackle the problem.
Garg said the DoT’s internal audit found that operators were not spending enough time and energy on optimization, or more efficient use, of networks.
“If optimization is done, it will improve the quality of services drastically,” he added. “The DoT team studied an operator in Kolkata and found dramatic improvement in the quality of service just through optimization.”
Garg pointed out that some operators had set aside 5MHz of 1,800MHz airwaves for LTE, or 4G, and had not invested in enough GSM equipment, leading to further network congestion. “Our team found that it is not necessary to earmark 5MHz of airwaves for LTE,” he said.
While some telecom companies did not win back 900MHz airwaves in recent spectrum auctions, the 1,800MHz won by them was not being used for 2G but kept aside for LTE, he said, asking operators to increase their capex to improve the quality of services.
“Operators should address the call drops — it shouldn’t be more than what is mandated by TRAI. We are asking TRAI to suggest and impose fees and levies,” Garg said.
Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had written to various chief ministers last month to allow operators to set up towers in government buildings to improve the situation of call drops. He had also asked the urban development ministry for in-principle approval to set up in-building solutions that would permit transmission of radio waves through thick walls.
“However, the drive must come from telecom operators now. They must come forward and install the in-building solutions,” Garg said, putting the onus on telecom operators. “This will even reduce the BTS (base transceiver station) requirements.” A BTS transmits mobile signals and a number of such stations make up a cellular network.
Garg said the next big priority for the telecom department was the formulation of the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) policy. “If required, we will once again write to the regulator seeking fresh recommendations,” he said. MVNOs are companies that provide telecom services without owning spectrum or network infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the TRAI has asked the DoT for clarity on the quantity of spectrum to be auctioned and the date of expiry of permits for airwaves. The telecom department had sought Trai’s suggestions for the pricing of airwaves in the 700, 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 and 2600 MHz bands.