Airtel urges Trai to postpone scrapping of IUC

“The (London-based) GSMA too has predicted that 12-13% of customers will continue to use 2G handsets till 2025,” Airtel said in its submissions to the Trai, which had sought comments on a proposal to defer the introduction of a zero IUC regime.

Bharti Airtel has urged the telecom regulator to postpone the scrapping of interconnection usage charges by at least three years from the planned January 2020 deadline, saying traffic symmetry between networks has not been achieved and over 400 million mobile users continue to use 2G networks, people close to the regulator said.

“The (London-based) GSMA too has predicted that 12-13% of customers will continue to use 2G handsets till 2025,” Airtel said in its submissions to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which had sought comments on a proposal to defer the introduction of a zero interconnection usage charges regime.

“Traffic from the 4G-only operator continues to be on the higher side, both in terms of absolute magnitude and percentage,” Airtel said, adding that this indicated “traffic symmetry has not been achieved.”


Reliance Jio Infocomm, which operates India’s only nationwide 4G network, has opposed the move to defer the zero-IUC regime. In its submission, it said Trai’s proposal was created to incentivise Airtel and Vodafone Idea, which are yet to fully upgrade their networks to 4G standards. Jio said any deferment of the regime would adversely impact Trai and the government’s credibility, besides reducing investor confidence in the telecom sector and discouraging foreign and domestic investment.

IUC is paid by call-originating telcos to the destination network. Jio is currently a net payer of IUC, while Airtel and Vodafone Idea are net recipients, underlining the reasons for their respective stands.

At press time, Airtel did not reply to ET’s queries. Submissions of Vodafone Idea, which has historically opposed the zero-IUC regime, were not immediately available.
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Airtel said in its submissions that “despite the massive deployment of 4G, the assumption regarding adoption of technologies is not proven.” It said 49% of its customers still use 2G handsets and only 17% of the company’s voice traffic was carried on 4G-VoLTE in June 2019 even 2-3 years after deployment of the upgraded network.

Trai’s latest IUC review comes barely two years after it cut the charge by 57% to 6 paise a minute and ordered its end from January 2020. The regulator’s view was that by the end of 2019, a majority of operators would move to packet switched technologies and the cost of terminating calls would be so small that there would be no need to fix a charge.

Jio has alleged that the IUC regime subsidises and incentivises telcos that don’t want to shift to IP-based technology.

Building its case, Airtel said the cost of completing a call is much higher than 6 paise a minute and the cost of power, tower rentals and spectrum have nothing to do with whether there is an IP network or not.
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Trai noted in its September 18 consultation paper that consumers still haven’t completely moved to data networks and voice traffic imbalance between operators exists.
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