Airtel, Vodafone needle Trai on network tests; Jio says non-issue

The regulator issued a consultation paper on May 1 this year to refine rules on network testing.

New Delhi: Telecom operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular have questioned regulator Trai's timing of recent paper on refining mobile network test rules, calling it a 'disguise' after the damage was done by Reliance Jio.

The Mukesh Ambani-led Jio has dismissed the charges saying the incumbents have created a non-issue around network testing, despite clarity in present rules and it is necessary to clear all ambiguities in the existing framework.

The incumbent telecom operators, under the umbrella of industry body COAI in August 2016, alleged that Reliance Jio is bypassing regulations by offering full-fledged services under the guise of test connections and requested the Department of Telecom to ask Reliance Jio to immediately stop all connections provided to 1.5 million users.

At the time, Jio was providing free unlimited 4G data services and voice calls in the test phase. The company launched its commercial service on September 5, 2016. Reliance Jio had refuted charges as "malicious, unfounded, ill-informed, and frivolous and are contrary to actual facts".

The tussle between incumbents and Reliance Jio led to exchange of communications between the DoT and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). The regulator issued a consultation paper on May 1 this year to refine rules on network testing.

Airtel, in its submission to the Trai, said that there are no grey areas or ambiguities in the existing guidelines and the paper is no more relevant as damage has already been done.

It said that the present rules clearly state that the enrolment of subscribers is not permitted before the commercial launch of services and the regulator has "failed to act on a suo motu basis over the violation of these rules".

"However, these guidelines have been blatantly violated by the new entrant. Therefore, we are surprised that instead of taking an action against the new entrant, TRAI has issued a consultation paper over the issue," Airtel said.

It added that the delay in action from Trai allowed the new entrant to amass subscribers in the guise of test users and offer all its services for free.

Vodafone alleged that the Trai, instead of examining the compliance of licensing terms and conditions by Reliance Jio, has condoned the actions of Reliance Jio in the consultation by citing lack of clarity and converted the consultation into future discussion.

"...the present consultation appears to be disguising these violations by claiming lack of clarity in the license regarding time period for testing, limiting number of SIMs and enrolment of subscribers during the test phase," Vodafone said.

Idea Cellular said the the consultation on network testing has only been issued almost after nine months of having received the formal reference from DoT which "clearly demonstrates the lackadaisical approach of the Trai towards dealing with such a critical issue" that has resulted in a plethora of problems for the entire telecom industry.

Idea said that the conduct of the Trai on this specific issue raises serious questions on the Authority?s approach towards this issue with regard to the guiding principles of fairness and transparency.

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