The telecom battles are just showing no signs of abating, with Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vodafone still going after each other with relentless competition when it comes to tariffs, schemes, offers for existing and new subscribers, data packages and more. But things have suddenly taken a rather weird turn, but to be honest, it is fun for the rest of us social media users. These battles have now also ended up on social media, Twitter in particular, with the three telecom companies now taking some veiled and some not so veiled potshots at each other regarding tariffs, subscription offers and more. The flashpoint seems to have been Reliance Jio’s recent decision to charge Rs 0.06 per minute for voice calls made by Jio users to friends and family who may be using Airtel or Vodafone Idea connections.
The point of the social media sniping is the decision by Reliance Jio earlier this month to charge for off-net calls. Reliance Jio went on the offensive on social media suggesting to followers that the new Rs 0.06 per minute is a charge that will be paid by Jio to the network the call is delivered to, which could be Airtel, Vodafone or Idea. In one tweet, Reliance Jio says, “Who's taking the toll? #IUC #JioDigitalLife #LifeIsBeautiful #JioOnIUC” with the image that had the words Air Toll, apparently in a reference to Airtel. To this, Airtel India responded saying, “You look cute in our colours”. In another tweet, Jio says, “Zero IUC; this idea can change your life. #IUC #JioDigitalLife #LifeIsBeautiful #JioOnIUC” which looked like a snap at rival operator Idea. Jio also posted multiple tweets explaining why it is now charging IUC of Rs 0.06 per minute for some calls, as well as details of the top-up packs that users can add to their subscription to a bundle of free calls and additional data.
Airtel and Vodafone Idea responded. In one of the many tweets, Airtel says, “When we say unlimited calling, we mean just that. Just another reason why we say #AbTohSahiChuno” with an infographic that says “Unlimited matlab Unlimited”. One of the multiple tweets that Vodafone posted included one that says, “An alternate SIM was never a good choice. On Vodafone #FreeMeansFree. So continue enjoying free unlimited calls. Spread the word and tell your friends & family to switch now,” complete with a short video clip that says they offer free unlimited calls, and that is the truth.
On October 9, Reliance Jio said that the Interconnect Usage Charge (IUC) will now be paid by Jio subscribers for outgoing voice calls to any and all calls made outside the Jio network. “So, for all recharges done by Jio customers starting today, calls made to other mobile operators will be charged at the prevailing IUC rate of 6 paise per minute through IUC top-up vouchers till such time that TRAI moves to Zero termination charge regime. Presently, this date is 1st January 2020,” says Jio in an official statement. This signaled the end of the truly unlimited voice call era, at least for Jio subscribers.
There was also a fear that Airtel, Vodafone and Idea will also start subscribers for calls made outside their respective networks, thereby increasing the monthly bills for mobile subscribers in the country. Airtel and Vodafone Idea responded with positive news for subscribers—both operators confirmed they won’t charge their customers for calls made within the network or outside the network. for calls made outside the Jio network. “The announcement by one of the telecom service providers today to charge for calls made to other service providers to cover the termination charge of IUC is not only an action of undue haste but it also does not bring out the fact that interconnect is a settlement between operators and not a consumer pricing matter. In our view, its TRAI’s call for a consultation on IUC keeping in mind the continuing asymmetry in traffic and in line with its earlier stated position on the matter,” says Vodafone Idea in a statement shared with News18. The important point here is that Vodafone Idea seems to be indicating that the IUC charge is something that mobile operators work out within themselves, as per the regulatory definition set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). It is not something consumers should have to worry about.
Anil Kaushal, retired member (technology) of the Telecom Commission and ex-officio secretary to Government of India in Department of Telecommunications (DoT), believes that while the average user may be impacted, the industry will remain largely agnostic. Speaking to News18, he said, “The impact will be more on people for the time being, than the industry as a whole. It is possible that other operators may also increase inter-operator charges by following Jio’s footsteps. As a result, the common man may be affected and pay more money. As for the industry, anyone can fluctuate the tariffs depending on competition at any point, so such a move is relatively natural. The industry is likely to not be significantly affected by this move for now.”
Clearly, this is not the last we have heard of this chapter of the telecom battles.
Disclaimer: News18.com is part of Network18 Media & Investment Limited which is owned by Reliance Industries Limited that also owns Reliance Jio.