Mobile phone users in the Northeast are finding it particularly difficult to complete their conversations. Thanks to the nuisance of ‘call drop’, they are getting cut off abruptly in mid-sentence. In this, they are suffering as much as users in other parts of the country, but this region has long borne the brunt of ‘network busy’, ‘not within reach’, blind spots, poor voice quality and other irritants in telecom services. This time however, call drop is becoming a serious mece all over the country with nearly 100 crore mobile phone users. In their vain bid to catch better sigls, users twist and turn, run around the house or move outside to stand under trees. With mobile-powered e-commerce becoming a booming industry, frequent call drops are giving headaches to consumers in making payments. Whether government officials or corporate honchos, petty traders or students, people in emergencies or common users — all are making multiple calls to get their messages through. It is threatening to undo Prime Minister rendra Modi’s dream of a ‘Digital India’, bringing cities and villages online to the internet with broadband connectivity and Wi-Fi, ensuring fincial inclusion for all and delivering government services digitally.
A deeply concerned PM is now taking Telecom and IT officials to task to sort out the problem. They in turn are blaming telecom companies of rushing to add crores of customers without investing in infrastructure and upgrading technology. The growing public suspicion is that telecom companies are short-changing customers by deliberately engineering call drops to increase revenues, because they primarily charge calls by the minute rather than by the second. Though the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had set a 2% cap on call drops, its audit report last year revealed that most telecom companies reported call drops far above this limit. The TRAI is now set to come out with recommendations within this month, as well as a service paper listing reasons behind the mece. There are already indications TRAI may be forced to give up its hitherto soft policy on telecom companies. If the watchdog does take a firm stand that consumers need to be compensated for call drops, it would be widely welcomed. There are further hints that TRAI may make it mandatory for telecom companies to regularly disclose their network capacities and steps taken to optimise networks to prevent call drops. Telecom experts have pointed out that in intertiol calls, many foreign telecom operators credit free talk-time to consumers for a dropped call. They have also blamed the government, the TRAI and telecom companies equally for the mess, attributing call drops to a variety of factors like spectrum, network capacity, geographical coverage, capacity utilization, switching between towers and other technical failures.
The public health scare about radiation hazards due to mobile telephony towers in densely populated areas, is also said to have aggravated the problem. Reportedly, about 1,700 such towers have been shut down across the country in the last year alone, even as some urban civic bodies are locked in legal battles with telecom companies over licence fees for setting up mobile towers. The Centre is now seeking opinion from states about formulating uniform tiol guidelines for setting up such towers. A major part of the call drop problem seems to be about spectrum, which is the radio frequency allocated by the government through auction for transmitting voice and data. In their defence, telecom companies argue that they have to mage with very little spectrum compared with their counterparts in other countries. Blaming the government for not revising its spectrum usage policy despite four-fifth of the country’s population already using mobile phones, telecom companies point out that government agencies like defence and police forces, railways and airlines are still monopolising more than 60 per cent of spectrum. These companies are also demanding tiol guidelines for setting up mobile towers without hassles. India has pinned high hopes on its mobile phone revolution, becoming the second-largest mobile user market after Chi. As many as 35 crore Indians are now accessing the internet with their mobile devices, and their numbers are exploding by the month. From farmers connecting with distant markets, rural patients consulting with faraway hospitals, students logging into countrywide virtual classrooms or women using apps for safety, mobile telephony is now too vital a technology to be fouled up by the telecom service provider’s ibility to maintain a call.