M A I N   N E W S

Fresh war of words between telecom cos
Bharti, Idea accuse Tata, RCom of inflating customer base figures
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 7
After Vodafone Essar, it is now the turn of other two major GSM mobile operators, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular, to fire a salvo at dual technology operators Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications, in what is a sequence of the recent war of words that erupted after Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata accused GSM operators of “hoarding spectrum”.

A fresh round of controversy began after Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular issued a statement pointing to the inflated figure of active customers reflected by the dual technology operators on their networks.

Another twist to the tale was added by MP-industrialist and a former telecom entrepreneur, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who accused Ratan Tata of “speaking inconsistently and in two voices over the critical issues of out-of-turn allocation of spectrum, hoarding of spectrum by incumbent operators and flip-flop of the telecom ministry policy”.

According to reports, Chandrasekhar, in a letter to Ratan Tata, has questioned the need for such a prestigious group like Tatas employing a lobbyist like Niira Radia and the wisdom of Tata Group head in fighting corruption by doing an “ineffective intellectual post-mortem” instead of active resistance. The MP was referring to Tata’s bribery charge regarding an incident that occurred 15 years ago. Chandrasekhar wondered “why Tata remained silent all these years when he should have spoken out then and there”.

The statement by Bharti and Idea follows sector regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) report mentioning that some of the operators were inflating their customer base figure.

TRAI had undertaken the exercise in a bid to establish the correct number of mobile subscribers in the country, which was one of the fastest growing markets in the world with about 15 million additions every month.

Apparently referring to Tata Teleservices and RCom, the GSM operators said their competitors “had a very low active customer base, both for their long-established CDMA operations and the relatively new GSM operations”.

The TRAI report last week had revealed that less than 50 per cent of the subscribers of new cellular operators were active, in sharp contrast to the national average of 70 per cent active users.

It had further said that Bharti had over 89 per cent active customers, while Idea Cellular had 88 per cent, followed by Vodafone Essar at 75 per cent, compared to 45-47 per cent for Tata (GSM and CDMA) and 65-67 per cent for RCom. This was the first time that the telecom regulator had released the percentage of active customers on operator networks.

Notably, the TRAI had last month told telecom companies to report their active subscribers. Though companies use different yardsticks, many define an active subscriber as one who has used the phone at least once in a defined time period, such as the preceding 30 days.





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