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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Explained: Why TRAI has an issue with premium plans that offer priority

The TRAI has claimed that it was not possible to give preference to certain customers without deteriorating the network quality for the remaining customers, and has asked the telecom companies to explain the same.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 19, 2020 11:19:45 am
trai, telecom operators, airtel, jio, mobile plans, premium plans, indian express news A relay mast operated by Vodafone. (Reuters Photo: Fabrizio Bensch)

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have gotten into a slugfest over premium plans being offered by these companies. Friday, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) stayed the TRAI’s July 11 order to the telecom service providers asking them to stop offering premium and ‘priority on network’ services. The regulatory body can, however, continue its probe against both the operators, the TDSAT said, and pass final orders in accordance with law at the earliest.

What do the plans being offered by the mobile companies entail?

Vodafone Idea is offering the RedX plan for Rs 1,099 a month under which, among other benefits, it has claimed that these postpaid subscribers will get 50% faster data speeds. Similarly, Airtel has launched a Platinum category of customers comprising anyone subscribing to a postpaid mobile plan of over Rs 499 a month, under which faster 4G speeds are being offered. Both the companies have claimed that the subscribers of these plans will get preference on their networks.

Read | Incorrect to say Jio plaint triggered probe into premium service plans of other telcos: TRAI

What is TRAI’s contention?

The TRAI has claimed that it was not possible to give preference to certain customers without deteriorating the network quality for the remaining customers, and has asked the telecom companies to explain the same. Further, senior officials at the regulator have said that telecom operators have earlier claimed it was not possible to guarantee internet speeds to any customer and consequently the TRAI has asked the operators how would they ensure that speeds are guaranteed to the customers of RedX and Platinum plans.

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What have the operators said?

The mobile companies claim to have deployed “advanced technologies” to give their premium customers preference on the network. In a statement, Bharti Airtel’s chief marketing officer Shashwat Sharma said: “It has been our endeavour to offer a differentiated service experience to our Platinum mobile customers as part of the Airtel Thanks program. And that’s where we will deliver that ‘extra’ service experience to them, including faster speeds by giving them preference on our 4G network, while continuing to serve each of our 280 million customers with the same passion.”

What is the basis of TRAI’s argument that the speed guarantees could be misleading?

In mobile networks, the capacity of any base station is shared by hundreds of customers, or even thousands at some point. Unlike fixed-line broadband networks, where a dedicated pipeline is allocated to a customer with a pre-defined bandwidth, cellular networks work on shared infrastructure with fixed capacity. Here, a metric known as ‘contention ratio’ comes into play. For example, if a tower with capacity of 100 megabits per second has 10 users currently connected to it, the contention ratio is 10:1 and each user will approximately get data speeds of 10 megabits per second. However, if 40 more users join the cell site, the ratio increases to 50:1 and the speed that each user gets is degraded to 2 megabits per second. Therefore, the regulator claims, the experience of any given customer depends on a number of factors such as how many people are connected to one particular tower, what is the network capacity of their handheld device, whether there is a downtime on the said tower.

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