NEW DELHI :
Bharti Airtel has slashed how long an outgoing phone call will ring before getting disconnected—a tit-for-tat retaliation to a similar move by rival Reliance Jio, as the two companies fight for dominance in the world’s second largest telecom market.
Bharti Airtel, the second-ranked operator by revenue, has told the telecom regulator that it has cut the ringing time for outgoing calls on a rival network to 25 seconds from 45.
The company said it took the step as despite its repeated requests, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has neither directed Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, the biggest telecom operator, to restore the timer to its original duration of 45 seconds nor issued a direction to operators to set the timer to 30 seconds as proposed by most of the operators.
“Therefore, we have reduced the ringing timer to 25 seconds in our network as well," Airtel said in its letter to Trai dated 28 September. Mint has reviewed a copy of the letter.
“In the absence of any direction from Trai and to prevent further loss of IUC (interconnect usage charge), we are left with no other option than to reduce the timer in our network as well," Airtel wrote.
An emailed query to Airtel went unanswered till press time.
A Jio official, responding to a Mint email, said: “Incumbent operators, to hide their inefficiencies, are blaming it on IUC. It is they who are gaming the IUC regime by charging their 2G/ 3G customers high voice tariffs. Users from incumbents network who are paying ₹1.5/min for calls request Jio users to make a free voice call to them by giving a missed call, which is as high as 25-30%. Globally, most operators have an average ringing time of only 15-20 seconds, and 25 seconds ringing time on Jio network is in line with global practice."
Last week, Airtel, without naming Reliance Jio directly, alleged that it was gaming the interconnect usage system by reducing its outgoing call ringing time.
Airtel said the change in pattern results in a missed call, and forces the person receiving the call on another network to dial back, thus creating incoming call traffic for Jio.
This diverted incoming traffic would help Jio, which has just 36% of its total voice traffic as incoming calls, make 6 paise on every call that lands on its network, Airtel had then alleged.
Interconnect usage charge is levied by mobile networks handling incoming calls from rival networks. At present, the IUC is 6 paise a minute.
To be sure, Airtel’s fresh letter comes just a fortnight after Trai floated two separate consultation papers on the issue.
On 18 September, the regulator floated a fresh consultation paper to see if there was a need to revise the date for scrapping IUC, given the continuing imbalance in inter-operator traffic. This followed its consultation paper on 16 September to decide the ideal call ringing time, after receiving complaints that an operator had reduced the duration to 20 seconds on its network.
Airtel alleged that once a customer receives a missed call, he or she tends to call back the originating operator’s network.
By converting such outgoing calls to incoming, a large operator was not only getting IUC from other operators, but also trying to reduce the asymmetry of traffic artificially, Airtel alleged, adding that this is to show symmetry in traffic in the run-up to the proposed implementation of zero IUC.
Trai reduced IUC to 6 paise per minute, effective 1 October 2017 and to zero from 1 January 2020. Earlier, it was 14 paise. Incumbents, already reeling under the fierce price war triggered by the launch of Reliance Jio in September 2016, were severely hit by the Trai order. Airtel and Vodafone Idea resisted the change, while Reliance Jio was in favour.