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Call drop penalty norms fraught with glitches: Analysts

The Indian telecom watchdog’s decision to penalise mobile phone service providers for call drops is fraught with glitches as it ignores issues like technical hurdles in assigning reasons, poor spectrum policy and obstacles in roll-out of towers, analysts maintain.

On the face of it, Rs 1 penalty per call drop, limited to a cap of three such occurences per day, may not appear steep. A subscriber could get a maximum of Rs. 90 per month. But based on average revenues per subscriber, which is Rs. 180-Rs. 200 for Idea and Bharti, it can prove quite a knock.

“There are also likely to be technical hurdles in implementation. Based on our discussions with telcos, it isn’t easy to determine the cause of call drops,” said a Nomura report, adding this can be due to limitations in both the originating network and terminating network.

Actions like removing phone batteries or stepping into low coverage areas can also be the causes.

“Anyone designing telecom networks will know that ensuring nil call drops is near impossible for commercial operators. There are several external factors beyond the operators’ control that could influence call drops,” said Credit Suisse, while also pointing out some technical glitches.

“The new rules mandate that only originating network is to compensate the originating subscriber. It is not clear how the situation is handled if the call drop occurs due to a problem with the terminating network,” it said.

A Morgan Stanley report questioned how this can be executed. “The unanswered question is how will the regulator practically implement testing methodology for call drop, as it could imply as much as 50 percent of average revenue per user is at risk for the most unreliable network operators.”

Speaking about the existing norms, Deutsche Bank Market Research said mobile companies currently need to achieve less than 2 percent call drops and that tests by the regulators own reports show that companies are adhering to this across most of their operating markets.

“Hence we are perplexed by the move for penalty on a per-call basis. The regulation is likely to introduce another layer of complexity to the operators’ billing systems. Besides the regulator has not specified any mechanism to audit the claims which are bound to arise in future.”

In its report, the regulator said it had examined the representations of telecom operators, who maintained that some issues beyond their control, like poor spectrum allocation and difficulties in setting up towers, were also contributing to call drops.

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