Aircel services hit in Tamil Nadu, customers line up to port number

Crisis-hit telecom major Aircel is facing customers' fury in Tamil Nadu as its network was affected by the cessation of services by tower infrastructure provider owing to financial dispute.

With panic-stricken customers pushing for mobile number portability in large numbers, Aircel's server crashed, forcing customers to throng its limited number service centres across Tamil Nadu.

Aircel has around 15 million customers in Tamil Nadu, largest among states, out of the total 89 million customers across the country. 

Aircel, promoted by Malaysian firm Maxis Communication, has been in financial crisis in the recent past due to severe competition and credit restrictions from banks. A proposed deal to merge the company with Reliance Communications also failed.

The latest issue started after one of the tower infrastructure provider, which operates 10,000 towers for Aircel in Tamil Nadu, allegedly switched off around 9,000 towers. The dispute is related to payment of a penalty to the infrastructure provider for around five to six circles closed down a few years back, said company sources. The matter is pending in the court.

Company officials said they have received almost ten times the port requests in the last couple of days, compared to what they usually get. The sudden surge in requests has choked the system, affecting the supply of porting code to the customers, officials said.

Aircel's Twitter account, which has around 6,74,000 followers, was also filled with customer requests and complaints related to portability.

"We have dumped all the requests from the automatic system into Excel and passed it to all our outlets, where the customers can go and collect the port number if they have already applied for," said K Sankara Narayanan, head of SBU (South), Aircel. 

"We are also engaged in talks to negotiate with the infrastructure provider to bring back the operations, so that the customers would not suffer," he said, adding that the company has temporarily made arrangements with other telecom service providers, so that the customers can manually change the network to those service providers so that they can at least send a request to port the services.

In the last few days, the company has received one million requests port requests and half of it came on a single day on Wednesday. The company has the capacity to handle less than 1,00,000 porting requests a month. While the company has started communicating the codes through its outlets, customers continue to face problems as it has only around 50 outlets in Tamil Nadu.

Of its total 5,000 employees, 1,000 are located in Tamil Nadu. Sources from the industry said that in case Aircel winds up its operation, which would have at least a window of 90 days even if such a decision comes in, the already struggling telecom sector may not be able to absorb such large number of employees.