Jio to charge users 6 p/min for calls on rival networks
Billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio on Wednesday said it will charge 6 paise per minute for voice calls made by its users to mobile phones networks of rivals like Airtel and Vodafone-Idea after indications that call connect charge may not end by the previously mooted deadline of December 31. While Jio blamed regulatory uncertainty caused by regulator TRAI reopening the issue of sunset clause for the so-called interconnect user charge (IUC), some in the industry saw it as a U-turn by the company on its promise to give users life-long free calls.
Jio, in a statement, said the charge would last till such time that regulations require payments to rival networks for completing calls but added that it will compensate the users by giving free data of equivalent amount. Jio, which charges users on its 4G telecom network only for data usage, whereas voice calls to anywhere in the country are free, said the new charge would not be applicable on calls made by its users to other Jio phones and to landline phones as well as on calls made using WhatsApp, FaceTime, and other such platforms. Incoming calls from all networks will continue to be free.
Telecom regulator TRAI in 2017 had slashed IUC to 6 paise per minute from 14 paise and had proposed to end the regime on December 31, 2019, after considering various factors. But it has now floated a consultation paper to review whether the timeline needs to be extended. Since voice calls on Jio network are free, highly charged 35-40 crore 2G users of rival networks end up giving missed calls to its users to trigger call backs that have resulted in a payout of Rs 13,500 crore to Bharti Airtel and Vodafone-Idea in last three years, the company said adding that to recover the losses created by the TRAI move, the company has decided to charge customers 6 paise per minute for every call they make to a rival's network.
This will be the first time that Jio users will pay for voice calls. Airtel reacted to the move by saying TRAI had in September 2017 specifically mentioned that it will, if need be, re-visit the zero IUC regime plans.
Welcoming TRAI reopening IUC charges, Bharti Airtel said there still was significant asymmetry of traffic and given the massive non-data using 2G customers base in India the cost of "the call at 6 paise is already significantly below the real cost of completing the call." When contacted, a senior TRAI official said that the Jio's charges of a regulatory flip flop was "unfortunate", since the review is only at a discussion, not a decision stage. The official, who did not wish to be named, said that Jio is being "judgemental even before a judgement is pronounced".
While Jio is charging TRAI was of a regulatory flip flop, it was the company that had originally promised free voice calls to its customers, and had kept outgoing calls free even when the IUC was 14 paise a minute, the official said. TRAI will look at Jio's tariffs once they are reported, to see if it meets the touchstones of transparency, non discrimination and level playing field, the official added.
Jio in a statement said the TRAI consultation paper seeking to reopen the sunset clause of ICU "has created regulatory uncertainty and therefore Jio has been compelled, most reluctantly and unavoidably, to recover this regulatory charge of 6 paise per minute for all off-net mobile voice calls so long as IUC charges exist." For all recharges done by Jio customers starting Wednesday, calls made to other mobile operators will be charged at the prevailing IUC rate of 6 paise per minute through IUC top-up vouchers till such time that TRAI moves to zero termination charge regime.
"Jio will provide additional data entitlement of equivalent value based on IUC top-up voucher consumption. This will ensure no increase in tariff for customers," Jio said adding the price differential of free voice and exorbitantly high tariffs on rival 2G networks results in Jio network receiving 25 to 30 crore missed calls on a daily basis, which results in 65 to 75 crore minutes of outgoing traffic. "But for the effects of the tariff differential, especially the missed call phenomenon, the off-net voice traffic is already symmetrical now for Jio. It is being made asymmetric by the other operators by keeping their 2G voice tariffs high," it said.
In response, Airtel claimed that the TRAI assumption for zero IUC charge from January 1, 2020, was based on the adoption of VoLTE and the growth of smaller sized operators. "Both these have not materialized. There are still over 400 million 2G customers from the poorest sections of society living in rural areas paying less than Rs 50 per month and who can still not afford to buy a 4G device. Second, there still is significant asymmetry of traffic," it said.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)