It is a sort rerun of the fixed line telephone era of the sixties and seventies when calls connected or didn’t with the same frequency. The mobiles of the new era are acting up in the same way in metros like Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru.
The line of accusation runs as follows. The telecom companies claim that they have less airwave space than they need to carry the voice and data traffic on their networks, so they need more. The government claims the shortage is not nearly as much as made out by the telecom companies; instead it blames the companies for not putting up more towers since they are cutting back on investments. The public believes it has been short-changed since it suspects that more frequent calls add up to larger revenue for the companies.
The facts are as follows. Telecom companies claim they have spent Rs 129,000 ($ 22.4 billion) crore for buying airwaves and other investments in 2015 and their total annual revenue is approx Rs 176,000 crore in 2014—so capex is about 74 per cent
The government is checking out if all call drops are due to congestion as claimed by the telecom companies. For instance, do call drops come down at night when the frequency of calls falls? Anecdotally, it seems there is no difference. The data is yet to come in but if it is adverse it could be difficult for the operators to brush theme off.
In the race to acquire subscribers, the companies are unwilling to accept that at times there will be limitations on the spectrum available; Delhi, for instance, has a tele-density of 222.78 which is massive by any standards. Also, telecom providers are earning more per subscriber with a 7.43 per cent rise year on year in gross revenue for the last reported fiscal.
Call drops have benefited the companies in another way. It has drawn the attention of the public to their perceived problems. The government realizes this. Consequently, it wants to make life difficult for them. One of the options being explored is to provide some rebate on telephone bills for call drops. This suggestion by the telecom regulator is strongly opposed by the companies. They claim that the problem is exacerbated by the sealing of telecom towers in the cities by municipalities. While they want a national policy to address it, it is up to the states and cities to decide if they will abide by any such policy.