After months of lull, old and new telcos on Monday locked horns with Airtel accusing Reliance Jio of "gaming" the system of paying for calls to rival network, a charge that Mukesh Ambani-led firm countered saying incumbents were charging high voice tariffs and manipulating the system to detriment of their users.
Reliance Jio, a senior Airtel official alleged that "one large 4G-only operator" has arbitrarily slashed ring time for outgoing calls to other networks, thereby converting calls into missed calls and triggering a call back.
Jio countered the allegation saying it allows ring time of 20 seconds in line with practices by most global operators, including
Vodafone of UK.
A Jio official said that at least one-fourth of calls landing on the company's network are missed calls as incumbent firms charge high tariffs for making calls, and their customers, therefore, prefer a Jio user to call back using free voice calling available on the network.
"Therefore, the more efficient operator will end up paying IUC to the less-efficient and costlier operator," the Jio official contended.
Typically, a telecom operator pays for completing calls made by its subscribers to a rival network. This is done by paying the rival network an
interconnect usage charge (IUC), which currently is 6 paise per minute. The IUC was proposed to be eliminated from January next year but the sector regulator Trai is now reviewing the timeline.
An Airtel official alleged that by arbitrarily reducing the ring time, Jio was trying to "game" or manipulate the system so that calls to rival networks become missed calls.
This, said the Airtel official, has been done by the 4G-only operator slashing ring time to 20 seconds from the industry practice of 45 seconds. Since the calls are cut-off midway before being answered, it prompts a call back, which "artificially" converts the outgoing call to incoming calls on the 4G-only operator's network.
And, when that call back happens, Jio earns 6 paise per minute; by gaming the IUC system, the "4G-only operator" is trying to correct the current imbalance where 65 per cent of traffic from its network terminates on rivals' network, the Airtel official alleged.
"By converting such outgoing calls to incoming calls, one large operator is not only getting IUC from other operators but also trying to reduce the asymmetry of traffic artificially. This is to show symmetry in traffic in the run-up to the proposed implementation of zero IUC with effect from 1.1.2020," the Airtel official alleged.
Jio countered this saying, "It is actually the incumbent operators who are gaming the IUC regime by charging their 2G/ 3G customers high voice tariffs, as these customers are not able to move to the efficient 4G operator owing to not having a compatible device."
Airtel alleged that slashing of the ring time has also led to customer inconvenience. The charge was countered by Jio saying the incumbent operators have a ringing time of 30 seconds, as opposed to the "false statement" of about 45 seconds.
"Secondly, globally, most operators have an average ringing time of only 15-20 seconds -- this includes Vodafone UK," Jio official said. The Jio executive further said 25-30 per cent of calls landing onto its network are missed calls.
"Users from incumbents network who are paying Rs 1.5 a minute for calls request Jio users to make a free voice call to them by giving a missed call, thereby creating this traffic mismatch. Incumbent operators are creating this mismatch and wanting to monetise it too, by asking for 6p a min IUC revenue," the official said adding that if all operators were made to upgrade their networks to 4G and charge their customers at par, there will not be any traffic asymmetry.
Stating that IUC was nothing but a subsidy that new operators pay to incumbents, the Jio official said old operators have been "manipulating and misleading" the system to the detriment of the customers and the 'Bill and Keep' regime has still not been implemented in India.
Disclosure: Reliance Industries Ltd, the promoter of Reliance Jio, also controls Network18, the parent company of CNBCTV18.com.