On September 1, multi-billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani sparked a virtual bloodbath in the Indian telecom sector with the launch of Reliance Industries’ mobile network Jio. With its unlimited free voice calls and the promise of arguably the cheapest data services on the network that only supports 4G, the fastest data delivery speed for mobile phones, Jio was bound to start a cost war – but faced its first hurdle early on in the race, with charges of frequent call drops over the network.

A whopping 80% of Jio's calls have been failing, according to a statement issued by the company.

“The situation has deteriorated significantly in the last few weeks, with over 80 calls failing out of every 100 call attempts,” Reliance Jio said in a statement last week. However, it has blamed the country’s major network providers such as Airtel and Vodafone for this, saying they had not provided enough interconnection points. “In the last 10 days alone, over 15 crore RJIL [Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited] calls have failed on the Vodafone network,” the statement saod.

In an earlier statement on September 13 it had said: “In last 10 days alone, over 22 crore calls have failed on the Airtel network, while 52 crore calls have failed cumulatively on the networks of the three incumbent operators viz. Airtel, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd.”

The statement further said that users had been denied “benefits of superior voice technology” Reliance Jio’s “state-of-the-art” network because of congestion in the point of interconnection between networks.

Tall promises

At the Jio launch, Ambani had said that Reliance Industries had deployed the largest 100% Voice over Long-Term Evolution, or VoLTE network. "VoLTE provides crystal clear voice and video quality, instant call connectivity, the least call drops and a unique ability to use data and voice simultaneously."

While the service will officially launch in January 2017, it has been accepting new users since September 5. At last count, Jio’s user base was about 1.5 million, but a favourable response post its rollout has prompted the company to target 250 million users by year-end, which is more than a fourth of the country’s current mobile phone using population.

Till December 31, all users get unlimited data as well as free calls and next year, the tariffs will be finalised.

However, the customer experience of those on the new network has not been great, with purported complaints of call drops, low speeds and non-availability of sim cards.

War of words

Jio isn’t the only network reporting call drops – a report in July by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India showed that most networks were violating its mandatory guideline of ensuring less than 2% dropped calls. The national capital is worst affected, with 1.2% to 10.7% calls being dropped, depending on the network and location of the tower.

Reliance Jio, however, has claimed that the issues on its service are not due to natural congestion, but artificial blockage of services. It has alleged that the staggering number of call failures is because the three competitive operators – Airtel, Vodafone and Idea – are not letting Jio use enough interconnection points, resulting in leading to congestion in the network.

“Indian customers have not been able to enjoy RJIL’s free voice offer as a result of such anti-competitive behaviour of incumbent operators,” the company stated in its release.

And, in a statement on Monday, it said: “While there are over two crore call failures every day between the two networks [Jio and Airtel] there are no incidents of call failures within the Jio network.”

Bharti Airtel Limited, meanwhile, currently the largest network operator in India, claimed that Jio’s own network efficiencies were resulting in the large number of call drops and providers had given enough interconnection points to Jio to handle its traffic.

“With the latest augmentation, the total number of PoIs [point of interconnection] provided will become three times the present number...,” Airtel said in a statement. “This capacity will be sufficient to serve over 15 million customers, which is much more than their present subscriber base and their demand for 10 million projected customers.” It added that there are no capacity constraints from Airtel’s end.

However, Reliance, claiming to be the “aggrieved party” in the battle between telecom operators, even seemingly urged customers to switch to Jio to experience the quality of service.

“We encourage all customers to make Jio to Jio calls to experience HD quality voice services without any disruptions whatsoever,” the company said on Monday,” adding that Airtel’s statements were “misleading and unfortunate”.

Jio, which has played victim in this battle of telecom operators, needs to build its case for more interconnections points to TRAI, in the face of stiff competition form major players who had lowered rates ahead of Jio’s launch in response to claims of its disruptive prices.

Telecom operators had earlier approached TRAI, while Jio was being tested out by select users prior to the launch, claiming that the service was being allowed to bypass regulations in a manner that “point[s] to a pattern of discrimination against the existing mobile operators.”

While TRAI’s latest performance report on telecom services, released in August, has some hard data (presented in the chart) on call drops across networks in the country, this is based on information provided by the operators themselves. This implies that that the actual problem may be much graver – and that not only Reliance, but all network operators in the country may have to work on improving the number and quality of towers in the country.