Sharmistha Jain, 42, ended up making 4-5 calls for a less-than-30 second-conversation with her driver about picking up her daughter from school. "I experience the problem of call drops not just in my house, but also when I am on the road, in the escalator or in the metro. Of the 20 calls I make in a day, 18 have problems of call drops," said Jain, who lives on the 18th floor of a Gurgaon building.
Chandrashekhar agrees. "I changed my operator, but the problem persists. My bills have escalated in the last couple of years by over 70 per cent, but the quality of service has deteriorated," he lamented.
A majority of the 900 million odd telecom subscribers across the country are grappling with the issue of call drops. Interestingly, the average revenue per user (ARPU) of almost all top operators has seen a sharp increase. Bharti Airtel's ARPU rose from Rs185.30 during the third quarter of 2013 to Rs195 in 2014. Vodafone India too reported an increased from Rs176 to Rs193 a year ago. Idea Cellular's figure escalated to Rs169 during the quarter ending December 2013 against Rs158 during the same period in the previous year. Reliance Communications's ARPU went up by 11.6 per cent to Rs125. Sistema Shyam Teleservices, which runs its telecom services by the brand name MTS, has recorded an increase of 2.8 per cent in its ARPU to Rs97.
Industry experts, however, told dna that call drops is not the reason for the accidental monetary gain. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said it gets very few complaints about call drops. "There are no specific complaints of call drops. In case of such a problem, users should specify the area so that the issue can be rectified and reasons ascertained," said Sudhir Gupta, Trai secretary. He said users can shift to per second billing plans if they are losing money on the per minute billing system.
"I won't say the operator makes accidental monetary gain out of call drops. In fact, for every call made through a network, there is a fixed cost involved. If a person gives a missed call, he is not paying anything, but for the operator, since some amount of spectrum is involved, the company makes a loss out of that too," said Gupta.
An RTI query filed by dna received no concrete response. Trai replied by saying: "There has been no analysis of call drops in the last five years. The call drops are below 2 per cent, a benchmark set by Trai."
Analysts accused the regulator of ignoring the issue instead of taking steps to address the problem. "Indian operators remain spectrum-starved. Mumbai, for example, runs on about 1/7th of the spectrum allocation of London. Call drops have become worse in some congested areas in recent months due to the growth in voice traffic, data uptake and the removal of some towers in urban areas as a result of PILs," Mohammad Chowdhury, Leader Telecom PwC, told dna. "Other countries have stringent measures to maintain call quality. India could look more closely at these models."
Chowdhury agreed that call drops do not benefit operators too much. "More calls being attempted means a congestion of the network with no revenue being generated," he said.
Some analysts say with the introduction of 3G, operators have started neglecting 2G services. Others believe EMF radiation worries have resulted in mobile towers being pulled down, resulting in shoddy network. "It takes at least a year to replace them," said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India. Mahesh Uppal, director of ComFirst India, a consultancy firm, said Trai needs to keep users in the loop about why call drops take place and how the problem can be eliminated. "More than stringent, it needs creative measures," he said. "Trai has not approached this problem effectively and has treated it entirely as an operator's problem."