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Telecom operators commit over Rs 74K crore to curb call drops

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Tuesday’s meeting is one in a series of discussions held between the government and the service providers since July 2016 to find solutions to the issue of call drops.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), in a meeting with leading telecom operators including Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Reliance Jio, Vodafone India on Tuesday, asked these companies to meet their commitments towards setting up towers, small cells and other infrastructure for dealing with the issue of call-drops by end of March this year. On a combined basis, the telecom services providers have committed to investing over Rs 74,000 crore to upgrade and expand their infrastructure to address the issue.

“The worst affected areas seem to be Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh (East), Bihar, etc. We have asked the operators to specifically take measures for these places where the call drops are the worst, and put those on a fast-track. The second thing we have told them is that the operators should ensure that there is coverage at all international and national airports, major hospitals and highways, and if they are not able to get hold of sites from local authorities, they should bring it to our attention,” telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters here after the meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting is one in a series of discussions held between the government and the service providers since July 2016 to find solutions to the issue of call drops. In the earlier discussions, the DoT had asked telecom firms to adopt immediate measures to improve call quality including setting up additional mobile towers across the country. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has also issued new and more stringent call drop rules and the December-quarter will mark the first instance of reporting under the new formula. The sector regulator has asked the operators to submit their network-related data for checking service quality under the new benchmarks.

In the latest round of discussions, the telecom operators raised three key issues contributing to the rising menace of call drops. Sundararajan, while briefing reporters, said that the first issue raised by the companies was that while they were able to acquire approvals for cellular sites, the reality on ground differed and in many cases the sites were not available. She added that the government would soon call a meeting with relevant authorities to address this concern raised by the operators.

The second issue raised by the operators pertained to use of mobile handsets without the necessary certifications. Sundararajan said that even as rules prohibiting sale of devices without the clearance as per the Global Conformity Framework for mobile phones have been issued, the government will work on enforcing the rules in a more stringent way. “A lot of devices, which are not certified, the percentage of call drops is much higher than in certified devices. The DoT will take that up. We have already said that there should be mandatory testing and certification of all devices from October 1 but the operators want us to work with handset manufacturers even before that so that quality handsets are brought into the network,” she said.

The third problem cited by operators, Sundararajan said, related to illegal repeaters, which are equipment installed by certain people to boost signals, but end up interfering with networks of telecom service providers. “They said in Delhi there are 3,000 illegal repeaters. So we have decided to ask the authorities to ensure there are no illegal repeaters because it creates interference and therefore disrupts the quality,” the secretary said.

Apart from these, the operators also pointed out to the growth in traffic in the Indian telecom in the telecom industry as one of the reasons for call drops. “Everybody said that not only has data use grown by 6-7 times but there has also been a minimum two times growth in voice. They expected data to go up but nobody expected voice to go up, which is putting a lot of pressure on the networks,” Sundararajan said.

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