No tension with Internet firms but Trai must clarify rules: Sunil Mittal

Sunil Bharti Mittal
Telecom operators are now happily working with Internet firms like Google, Facebook and Whatsapp but regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) must clarify rules to resolve differences over app-based calling and message services, Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal has said.

"OTT (over-the-top) players and telecom players are very happily co-existing. Gone are the tensions and I think they love putting up more networks, lower the prices," Mittal said in an interview here.

Operators have been demanding that app-based calling and messaging services should be brought under the licensing regime. However, internet firms have been opposing any such move as it would scuttle innovation, affordable or almost free messaging services and adversely impact people adopting Internet.

"This is a digital society with collaborative effort but it can't be said that telecom operators have no role to play and only OTT players (internet-based calling and messaging providers) will do it.

"They cannot do it without backbone that telecom networks have to built. This will go hand in hand that is why our relationship with Google, Facebook , Apple, Whatsapp, Hike ... very healthy," Mittal said.

Telecom operators have complained to the government and the regulator Trai that internet-based calling and messaging companies are making a dent on their revenues by providing the same services without having the need to follow rules and regulations applicable on mobile services firms.

Mittal said telecom operators are unable to match the rates of OTT players due to high capital expenditure.

"You must remember that OTT players have no capital expenditure. Their market caps are through the roofs, they have to spend nothing. Telecom companies have to spend 200 billion dollars in capex," Mittal said.

As per experts, typically an average voice user ends up consuming around 400 minutes of network time in a month which if delivered using mobile broadband services like 3G and 4G translates into 18 to 72 MB (MegaBytes) per month.

Telecom operators are now offering 1GB (1024 MB) of mobile internet for around Rs 50 these days which is more than enough for consumers to meet their monthly calling needs.

When asked about private players' opposition to app-based calling plan of state-run BSNL for customer travelling abroad, Mittal said Trai must clarify rules around app-based calling."

"We have been saying same service same rules. You just clarify the rules. Trai must clarify that as simple as that. You must understand that there is no case that BSNL has any significant technology edge.

"On the contrary, given the difficulty public sector has getting to newer technology, private sector is way ahead. It is not that private sector does not have technology, it's the regulation which has to be same service same rules," Mittal said.

Telecom firms under the Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI) have approached the regulator against BSNL's fixed mobile telephony services.

BSNL's limited fixed-mobile telephony service is an app-based calling service that virtually turns mobiles into cordless phone working in sync with landlines to make and receive calls within home premises. The app only needs to connect with Internet to work and can be used from overseas as well without having to pay for international roaming charges.

In its letter to TRAI, COAI alleged that the BSNL's service bypasses Interconnect Usage Charges (IUC) in form of termination charges.

Incumbent telecom operators have opposed reduction or removal of IUC which is charged by one telecom operator from another for carrying calls or SMSes on its network. These charges do not exist in case of communications made over Internet.

Mittal said that IUC should stay as there is the cost incurred for completing or carrying calls on telecom networks.

"Why should it (IUC) go away. There is cost to be paid for all media that you put in," Mittal said.

TRAI is working on net neutrality and interconnection usage charges which are expected to resolve regulation around app-based calling and messaging services.

"Our view is same service same rules. If you are going to give a different set of rules which are light touch and favourable, just give the same to us," Mittal said.

The Bharti Airtel founder said that during his tenure as chairman of global industry body GSMA he worked with all operators to reduce drastically international roaming charges and protect consumers from bill shocks.

"In international roaming we have made move. You will see during my term, we have already given our announcement. We ate down by over 90 per cent from April 1. Trend will start to pick. During my rule international roaming will be thing of the past. There will be some extra charge that people will pay in per day packs but gone are the days of high bill shocks and atrociously high tariff that roaming currently has," Mittal said.

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