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56% cut: Roam freer
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 24
Roaming charges on mobile phones were today slashed by up to 56 per cent by TRAI, which the operators claimed as “disappointing and unwarranted reduction.”

The TRAI tariff order, which would be effective from February 15, would reduce roaming tariffs from 22 to 56 per cent as compared with the current market rates, TRAI Chairman Nripendra Misra said. The new tariff is applicable on all mobile customers, pre-paid and post paid, and across all types of tariff plans offered by both GSM and CDMA operators.

Director-General, COAI, T.V. Ramachandran stated that the new tariff would have an adverse financial impact on the GSM industry as reduction in roaming tariff was expected to be to the tune of Rs 800-900 crore.

He said this drastic reduction in roaming tariffs coupled with the recent sharp hike in the usage charges for microwave and backbone access spectrum, would squeeze the free cash flows of the industry, making it difficult for them to fund network expansion and meet national telecom targets. Misra said TRAI would closely monitor market developments on roaming and if perceptible competition evolves in the market, it would revisit the issue.

“For us to match international standards, reduction in roaming charges is essential. Lower ARPU (average revenue per user) is the game today,” Communication and Technology Minister Dayanidhi Maran told reporters on the sidelines of a conference.

The telecom regulatory body said it wants to do away with the Rs 50 rental and 15 per cent surcharge in addition to pruning of airtime charges, which are currently much higher than local mobile call charges.

TRAI said the mobile customers can receive SMS for free while roaming. However, charges for outgoing SMS while roaming continues to be under forbearance, he added. He said the new tariff is simple and transparent.

A mobile user, travelling outside the local network, will now have to pay only Rs 2.40 per minute for making long distance calls as against the existing rates of Rs 3.09-3.99 per minute.

The charges for receiving incoming calls while roaming would go down to Rs 1.75 per minute and that for making local calls within the visiting network to Rs 1.40 per minute. At present service providers charge a maximum of Rs 3.99 per minute for incoming calls while roaming and Rs 3.09 per minute for outgoing local calls. A surcharge of 15 per cent on air-time while roaming and a separate PSTN charge have also been done away with.

Ramachandran said the decline in roaming tariffs would most likely necessitate an increase in local call tariffs as roaming tariffs were hitherto being priced at a level which allowed the operators to offer the overall most economically affordable services to their consumers. This would adversely affect the low-end and marginal consumers who may now have to pay higher rates for basic local connectivity.

India has about 147 million mobile users in a nation of more than a billion people and has been adding about 6 million new users a month and has the lowest call rate.

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