With a dropped call ratio of 12% (according to a recent survey by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)), India would appear to have one of the world's worst collections of telecom networks. After all, the ratio is four times as much as the TRAI's permissible limit of 3%.
Authorities have accused operators of shirking on investments to improve quality of service, while telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said it is their "job and responsibility" to carry out upgrades. Operators are also now supposed to deliver regular reports about dropped calls to the Department of Telecommunications .
Even so, operators insist they have already spent nearly 1.34 trillion Indian rupees ($20.45 billion) on infrastructure in the last year alone. They argue that problems related to rights of way (RoW) are responsible for the high level of dropped calls.
A major issue in India, RoW requires operators to acquire approvals from various government authorities before they can finally deploy fiber in the ground. To make matters worse, the rules differ from one state to another.
But that is not the only reason for an increasing number of dropped calls across the country. Nearly 10,000 cell sites have become non-operational in the last year, claims the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). "This is in stark contrast to the requirements of the industry for enabling a digital economy, wherein at least 100,000 cell sites need to be put up in the next couple of years," says the COAI in a recent press statement.
Regional authorities have disabled towers for a multitude of different reasons, including power supply issues and non-renewal of leases. Operators now believe there is an urgent need for a national tower policy that will help to resolve the somewhat arbitrary rulings of various state governments.
The issue is especially pressing for service providers that have only a limited amount of spectrum per subscriber and need to put up more towers to cope with network congestion. What's more, deploying towers in residential areas is particularly difficult given concern in the country about the impact of mobile radiation on health.
"The industry also seeks expedited steps towards international spectrum harmonization and availability of increased quantity of spectrum," said the COAI in its release. "Also, interference from illegal wideband radios -- intra-country and cross border -- needs to be removed."
Significantly, the ratio of dropped calls has risen as data consumption has increased, suggesting operators may be using precious spectrum to support their more lucrative data products instead of their plain old voice services.
Growing concern regarding the quality of services offered by the incumbents could be a blessing for new entrant Reliance Jio, which is to launch 4G services in December this year. The operator will want to present itself as a congestion-free network with no previous history of dropped calls. That will only increase the pressure on India's existing operators to address this problem as soon as possible. (See RJio to Launch 4G in December.)
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading