Mobile Mayhem

Tower shortage, spectrum crunch and an X factor – why call drops are common in India

While even the prime minister has felt compelled to urge action to stop call drops, the problem is not going away any time soon.

The scourge of phone calls on India’s mobile networks getting cut mid-conversation has become so bad that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has expressed concern about it. Observing that call drops affect the common man, Modi asked the telecom ministry to address the issue urgently. After all, the prime minister will find it tough to sell his vision of Digital India with high speed digital highways and cyber security innovation if we can’t get a basic phone call right. But call drops are not going away any time soon.

First, there is the question of whose court the ball is in. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the government has done its part and will continue to do what it can to enable mobile service improvement. Telecom companies say that the shortage of telecom towers and of spectrum, coupled with fears of radiation and an over-zealous radiation emission cap on towers is hampering their efficiency.

In an audit of telecom companies performance for the quarter ended March 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India found that 23 of 184 2G operators overshot a cut-off rate for call drops. The regulator’s benchmark for call drops is less than or equal to 3%. Three networks had a rate that exceeded 2%. According to the TRAI audit, Aircel is one of the worst performers having call drops of more than 3% in 16 service areas with the rate as high as 18% in the North East. In comparison,  BSNL had more than 3% call drops in five circles and Vodafone and MTS in one circle each.

What really is a dropped call?

The audit numbers, as bad as they are, may still be and underestimation of the number of dropped calls. The reason is that what telecom operators report as a dropped call is very different from what a customer understands as a dropped call, said Kartik Raja, founder and managing director of Phimetrics Technologies.

“When I can’t hear you and the line just goes mute, but my phone shows that the call is still on, from a network point of view it is not a call drop. For the network, only when they receive a message saying the call is dropped, it is counted as a call drop,” Raja said.

Phimetrics conducted a study of telecom voice services, which began by defining a dropped call from a customer’s point of view rather than use a telecom company’s definition. The criterion was to count a call as dropped if the two users can’t hear each other for more than 10 seconds. Suddenly, Raja found, dropped call rates of 2% and 3% looked more like 5% and 15%. That’s how dire the problem is.

Not enough spectrum, towers

India's telecom operators have the lowest access to spectrum in the world. In addition to that, spectrum in India is extremely fragmented, which constrains use of data. “If you want to move from 2G to 3G or 4G mobile broadband, you need to have a 5Mhz chunk of spectrum. It won’t work if you have five chunks of 1Mhz each,” explained Mahesh Uppal, director of telecom consultancy firm Com First. “Some of the bands of spectrum are extremely fragmented, especially 1800 Mhz that is need for 4G.”


Telecom operators are packing base transmission stations – what we call telecom towers - into populous urban areas, all drawing from the small chunks of spectrum available there. But India doesn’t have nearly enough towers for current mobile usage or future growth. At present there are about 4,25,000 towers across the country. Hemant Joshi, telecom analyst and partner Deloitte, Haskins and Sells, estimates that for our current use and growth we need at least 1.00,000 more. Uppal thinks the requirement is closer to 2,00,000.

Several telecom tower sites have even been lost to the bogey of radiation. In 2012, the government reduced the electronic frequency limits of radiation to one-tenth of the existing limits. “This has created a sudden situation where the capacity has reduced and the traffic is increasing,” said Joshi. “You have networks on which voice [usage] is growing modestly and the data [usage] is going through the roof.”

The reduced radiation limit, which is also one-tenth of the level that the World Health Organisation thinks is permissible, was criticised by the organisation’s own environment coordinator.

Dropped calls in off-peak hours

While the main culprits seem to be the spectrum and tower shortage, they aren’t the only reasons for dropped calls. The Phimetrics study shows that 36% of call drops occurred in areas with good network and one-third of call failures occurred in off peak hours. “Operators are making a lot of revenue from data now. So a lot of spectrum is being allotted to 3G rather than 2G, to data rather than voice. That’s primarily the reason this sudden increase in call drops has happened,” Raja said.

The telecom regulator is willing to reassess the measurement of call drops and has called for new consultations into the issue. The telecom ministry, meanwhile, is considering financial disincentives for call drops. It isn't easy to pin down the reason for call drops, said Uppal, and if the government levies penalties service providers are likely to contest that they alone are responsible for call drops possibly leading to protracted litigation.  “Penalties will be counterproductive, in my opinion. They will help no one, not even the government,” he said.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.