|Trai brokers fragile truce on RJio, for now|
|Saturday, 10 September 2016 08:29|
Bilateral meets on PoIs, differences remain
The public spat between incumbent telcos like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea on the one side and RJio on the other may be over for now with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) brokering a temporary, though fractious, truce for the next few months.
At a meeting called of the regulatory heads of all four telcos, Trai secretary Sudhir Gupta asked them to discuss the issue of points of interconnection (PoIs) bilaterally and ensure there was no choking of networks. Without enough PoIs, RJio says its subscribers cannot call on other networks, or get calls from them.
While RJio had asked incumbent telcos for 12,700 PoIs for its initial estimate of 20-22 million subscribers within the next three months, Gupta has asked the incumbents to give out PoIs based on the number being 10 million to begin with. While Bharti, Vodafone and Idea agreed to abide by this, they also informed Trai of their problems and asked for a quick solution — in a nutshell, they argued that as long as RJio terminated 10-15 calls on their networks for every one they sent to RJio, the interconnect usage charge (IUC) was woefully inadequate.
Even if Trai addresses that issue over a few months — the matter is, in any case, in court with Bharti challenging the adequacy of the 14 paise per minute IUC — the battle between the incumbents and RJio is expected to erupt again over how many PoIs are required.
As compared to RJio’s demand for 12,700 PoIs, the incumbents have given it around 1,400 PoIs and according to their calculations, a maximum of 1,700 PoIs are enough to meet RJio’s needs till it reaches even a subscriber base of around 20 million, as compared to the 3-4 million it has right now.
By way of comparison, Bharti Airtel has given Vodafone around 16,000 PoIs for its 200 million or so customers and Idea around 14,000 for its 160 million.
Apart from the issue of asymmetrical traffic, incumbents also brought up the issue of whether RJio’s free-voice calls were even legal and alleged they were predatory under the Trai’s definition. All of this was brought out by the press statement issued by Bharti Airtel which, after thanking Trai for its role in getting the parties on the table, said, “We would request the Trai to also engage on the subject of a fair IUC regime and ensure that the practice of pricing is in compliance with the 30th Amendment of the Telecom Tariff Order dated January 16, 2004, which envisages tariffs to be IUC compliant, non-predatory and non-discriminatory.”
It added, “We urge the Trai to find a way to curb the massive asymmetric traffic to ensure that receiving networks are not abused by tsunami of free traffic. In this regard, IUC is an effective tool in the hands of Trai, which we hope they will use judiciously.”
Although Reliance Jio did not issue a statement, its representative, Mahendra Nahata, who attended the meeting, told reporters the company had asked for “the right number of connect, right quantum of interconnection”. Nahata said the company had put forth its point of view to Trai. “It is for Trai to look into the matter. There is no time frame indicated by the Trai,” he said.
The meeting had an element of drama with the Jio representative asking Trai not to allow Cellular Operators Association of India director general Rajan Matthews to participate, as he was not representing any operator. Mathews was asked to leave after Trai agreed the discussion pertained to bilateral matters and not a policy issue.