Mumbai: Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s biggest mobile-phone service provider, has asked the telecom regulator Trai to intervene after rival Reliance Jio started an offer to lure customers that was similar to a previous programme stopped by authorities.
Airtel, controlled by billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal, said that Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.’s Dhan Dhana Dhan plan — which loosely translates to money, money, money in Hindi — violates the spirit of the regulator’s directive and “essentially continues with a similar plan now masquerading under a different name.”
“This is a classic example of old wine in a new bottle,” Airtel’s spokesman said in a response to a text message. “The industry is in a very weak position and continues to bleed. With a weakened financial position companies will find it difficult to raise the capital to invest and roll out broadband networks.”
The latest battle showcases the struggle to keep customers in the world’s second-largest mobile phone market where intense competition has prompted Vodafone Group Plc to combine its Indian unit with Idea Cellular Ltd. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Thursday “advised” billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio to stop the Summer Surprise plan where customers who signed up for its unlimited Prime service at Rs303 ($4.7) a month would get the first three months free. Five days later Reliance Jio started a programme offering 90 days of service to clients for an additional Rs6.
“Essentially, the offer seems broadly similar,” to the one the regulator halted, Viju George, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Indian unit, wrote in a report on Wednesday. “If criteria for the determination of unfair pricing aggression are not identified or enforced, Reliance Jio could probably continue to get away even as it desists from free offers in the future.”
Airtel said that it hopes the regulator will act against the offer. R.S. Sharma, chairman of the regulator did not answer four calls to his mobile phone and didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Reliance Jio didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
Reliance Jio, which has more than 72 million Prime subscribers, stormed into India’s crowded mobile operator market by offering free services for a period that was extended until 31 March. Rival operators were forced to slash prices to match Reliance Jio, in order to retain subscribers. Bloomberg