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Reliance Jio vs existing operators: Telecom slugfest could yield tariff bonanza for consumers

Ahead of the full-fledged launch of Reliance Jio’s services, a high-decibel slugfest has started off between the new operator and the existing telcos represented by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). While the COAI, which largely represents existing telecom players, has maintained that with a new entrant coming in, some “sharp elbows” could be expected as the established players try to protect their market share, Reliance Jio has argued that the existing players are working against the company and trying to block its entry in the market.
The telecom regulator, Trai, has also found itself being dragged into the corporate battle that seems to be escalating by the day. For consumers though, the ensuing battle could herald cheaper tariff plans and more deals in the coming months.
COAI’s stance
The Cellular Operators Association of India, which is the lobby group of mobile service providers, including Reliance Jio, has claimed that the latter is choking networks of its other members such as Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Vodafone India and is offering full-fledged services to customers under the pretext of doing a trial run.
The lobby group has also written to Department of Telecommunications and said that all Reliance Jio connections should be stopped, because the company is offering commercial services under the guise of test connections.
What does existing policy say?
As of date, there is no policy distinguishing a test run from a commercial offering. Earlier this month, the Department of Telecommunications wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s views on defining when an operator moves from offering trial services to commercial services. However, an industry observer said that Reliance Jio had not yet filed a tariff plan with the sector watchdog — something that is a must-do for all commercial companies — and by the virtue of them not filing the plan, it could be assumed that Reliance Jio is not offering commercial services yet.
Choking of networks?
COAI has said that as per the agreements signed between its member companies and Reliance Jio, the latter had estimated 15-20 million users on its network, for which enough number of interconnection points were provided. Point of interconnection is the physical linking between the network of one operator to the equipment of another, thus enabling a subscriber of one operator to call a user of another operator. COAI further claimed that because Reliance Jio is offering free services to its users, the traffic generated is unnatural, and even though there are only 1.5 million users on Reliance Jio’s network, other operators were witnessing choking due to the unexpected traffic.
Reliance Jio’s side of the story
Reliance Jio has argued that the existing telecom operators are working against the company, and trying to block its entry in the market. It has also claimed that the incumbents are in breach of licence agreement by having “categorically” denied additional points of interconnect to Reliance Jio. It has claimed that the current number of interconnect points are inadequate, and the company is seeing a call failure right higher than 65 per cent. It has also claimed that this has resulted in 1.6 crore call failures per day on calls between Reliance Jio and the networks of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.
Government’s position
Both COAI and Reliance Jio have written to the DoT and the Trai, presenting their points of view. While Trai has said that the issue was something on which the call will have to be taken by the licensor, which is the telecom ministry, the COAI has pulled the regulator in by alleging that some decisions made by Trai “point to a pattern of discrimination against the existing mobile operators”. COAI has written against Trai to not only the DoT, but also to the Prime Minister’s Office.

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