Latest Updates on Indian Telecom Happenings
A lot has happened in the past few days and deserves its updates. With of course my own insight in it as I understand it. TRAI had initiated cuts in the international bandwidth prices, which were supposed to come in effect from April 1. I had earlier expressed my apprehension because given the spirited response of VSNL on the same; I had raised doubts that this announcement too would remain a fool’s day gift for us. It has indeed remained the same. VSNL filed an appeal in TDSAT, in order to question the telecom order that TRAI had passed.
While it is the right of every individual to approach the courts for relief if any injustice has been committed, the same needs to be looked with apprehension in case of big corporates when they have assumed monopoly. Most of the ISP’s need VSNL gateway for providing services. Artificially high prices mean that the end consumer is paying unnecessary for the same. It is interesting to note that at present in the dial up packages, VSNL has been able to provide unlimited packs for its own customers at affordable rates. Yet, commercial terms differ vastly. Broadband at this rate would just remain a dream.
This was not expected from Tata’s given the respect they have earned in this country. However, in my previous post on Dial up and their idiocies, my argument has been vetted. An update on set up of server in my city too is warranted here. Despite another email, no one has bothered to reply or even acknowledge my email to his or her top head. For reason of privacy, I cannot reveal any further details. It seems that they are out to short change the poor dealer who invested his time and money in the same. Perhaps, the other customers who might have abandoned VSNL long time back. I would be surprised if they start their services; it would be faithfully mentioned here anyway. In the meantime, I have to suffer BSNL for its shoddy services. Given the fact that I have lost hope and the will to fight it out with this comatose government organization.
Reliance is battling out the payment of the Access Deficit Charges to BSNL. In the recent relief from Supreme Court, Reliance was able to get a stay on the same. The battle looks promising and I am following up on the same. It remains to be seen as to how BSNL would recover its dues, which it claims that it rightfully belongs to it.
In the recent TRAI survey (they seem to come up with many of them) it was reported that Tata’s have the among the lowest market share; clearly they are also rans in the market for “millions of customers” (do not miss the satire in this) Reliance leads the pack with further additions on the anvil closely trailed by Airtel. I had earlier mentioned that numbers are arbitrary. There is no acceptable method of head count about the number of subscribers; it remains to be seen as to how TRAI resolves the issue on this.
Tata’s have followed the path of least resistance. It is now focusing on the volumes segment like PCO’s in order to justify returns on their investments. A clear-cut case can be made out of their failure. Much like the Indian cricket captain who is flogging a dead horse and refusing to quit and make way for others, so does Tata. Not surprisingly, Saurav Ganguly is the brand ambassador for Tata’s. I believe that he is a spent force; given the dismal performance in the recent test series and earlier, why Tata’s have chosen to persist with him is beyond me.
In a recent development, Tata has launched signature phones based on the Indian captain. This might perk up some interest in their offerings; I have my doubts. Much like the mainstream media that reported this with a picture of the bash and the handed out press conference with complimentary meals, they refused to ask Tata’s some basic questions. Why does the quality of roll out remain so dismal? Why did you choose to jump in at the last moment? And yes, the mother of all questions. When do users in smaller cities would get to see unlimited dial up in their hometown!
TRAI does take some pro-active steps at times. It recently sent a show cause notice to Bharti about the services that were launched as an introductory offer. What Bharti did was to route the local calls to its roaming customers without giving any benefit to the same to long distance operators BSNL and MTNL. As a result, these two companies suffered losses on that account. I doubt again that anything would come out of it. Given the blatant violation of the norms, it depends on the legalese of the law department to find out the options to fight it out.
What I see here is the cat and mouse game between the different operators. It is easy to visualize the same, yet no direct proof is available. When Reliance was in the eye of the storm, other operators kept their silence. I had mentioned then that it might be the handiwork of some operators to bring about this change. Now that everything is settled on Reliance, others are slowly facing the heat. Some obscure clause that Bharti came out with in 2003 is being brought up now. Clearly, there is some sort of dirty tricks department going on a full time job here. I have a reason to believe the same because TRAI so far has not been able to exert itself.
TRAI also floated the idea for an interconnect exchange. This would help to calculate to costs sharing between the different operators; number portability across the networks would be a reality. The fact is that it is a classic case of who would bell the cat. Understandably, none of the telcos wants to initiate the same on their own. One major reason would be that it would expose the telcos claims on the exact number of the customers or the churn in their networks. If at all it is introduced, I do not expect that customer would have the final freedom or say in front of these operators; despite their claims for working for the consumer, the experience on the ground is contrary. I am surprised that Department of Telecom (DoT) is keeping quiet on the same.
Long before it was reported that DoT had floated the idea of setting up infrastructure in rural areas for the private telcos to take over at a later date. Taxpayer’s money being thrown down the drain; it has been happening over the past 50 years.
In recent statistics, the real shrinkage of number of landlines was reported in Parliament. BSNL has been loosing a large customer base; so is MTNL. This explains the need to scale up “broadband” because this is one thing that can possibly arrest the decline in customer base. Then the talk of MTNL and BSNL merger. Clearly BSNL is eyeing its sister concern for the lucrative markets of areas where MTNL is providing its services. As I see it, BSNL needs volumes to fund the vast wastage of expenditure that is saddled with. Many arguments have been appearing in the media over the possible ways and means to affect the merger. I am cynical about the same. The shrinking mass of landlines is proof enough of increasing mobile penetration and poor services of BSNL.
Which telecom company would I rate the worst and best? There are no easy answers to the same. The simple rule of the thumb is that affordable world-class infrastructure is still light years from execution in India. Expect more of spin on the same in the coming months.