New Delhi: India’s biggest two cities, Delhi and Mumbai, and its two most populous states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, face the worst call quality, a top government official said on Tuesday.

The government has asked telecom to improve coverage in these regions at the earliest, telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters after meeting top executives from the telecom sector.

“Overall, if we look at the country, many parts of the south, particularly Tamil Nadu, Chennai, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana... the complaints are about 30-33% (of the total number of complaints). Whereas the worst affected areas seem to be Delhi, Mumbai, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. We have asked them to specifically take measures for these places where the call drops are the worst and put those on fast track," Sundararajan said.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) plans to meet operators every month to review their progress and has asked chief executives officers of telecom companies to monitor this issue. In the meeting, DoT reviewed the status of dropped calls across India, across specified routes and in Mumbai and Delhi.

The operators were also told to ensure mobile coverage at all international and national airports, major hospitals and highways, Sundararajan said.

“We will monitor this (call quality) strictly...every month... TSPs (telecom service providers) said, in their own figures, that call drops have been more or less stable and there is distinct improvement since December because of investments in infrastructure," she said, adding that “although the absolute number of call drops has come down, but other kinds of problems are coming in the network like the voice fade out and (caller is) not available."

Operators, on the other hand, highlighted slow approvals to set up signal towers, pressure on networks due to increasing data and voice traffic, high concurrent usage per base transceiver station and uncertified mobile handsets, among others, as issues affecting quality of service.

“We have said that setting up towers is a problem as approvals granted at the top level do not reflect on the ground; it is a different situation on the ground and we can set up towers at only a fraction of the approved sites," a representative of an operator said, requesting anonymity.

DoT will work with concerned authorities to sort out issues with respect to approvals at sites, Sundararajan said.

“The government permissions have started coming in...the situation is expected to improve. We have asked operators that by March, all commitments that they have made (for setting up towers should be adhered to)," she said, adding that there should be mandatory sharing of towers among operators.

“Airtel has said it will invest Rs24,000 crore in the coming year (2018-19 on infrastructure and technology)... and Reliance (Jio) will set up 1 lakh towers in the coming year and they have promised an investment of Rs50,000 crore," Sundararajan added.

Separately, DoT will also discuss with each operator the findings of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) upcoming report on its new quality of service norms, she added.

In August, Trai announced stricter norms effective 1 October to curb dropped calls and put in place a graded penalty clause for erring operators, under which if an operator fails to meet the call drop benchmark in a quarter, it may be liable to pay up to Rs5 lakh. The penalty on the operator can go up to Rs10 lakh for not meeting benchmarks for more than two consecutive quarters.

The regulator has also shifted to a new system of assessing the call drop rate, which will now be measured at the mobile tower level instead of at the telecom circle level. It expects the revision in norms to remove the anomaly, which arises due to averaging of call drop rate of bad performing cells in the network with good or excellent performing cells.

The October-December quarter will be the first quarter of reporting under the new norms. Trai last month issued a fresh format for operators to submit network-related data for checking service quality. The regulator is expected to come out with its report soon.

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