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Consumer: Quality vs. numbers – telecom business slipping ?




Mobile phone companies keep on fighting with each other about the number of new users that they have signed up; their stock prices are dependent on how many users they have and whether they are the number one mobile phone company. So, you will see a lot of news dedicated to which company is the top dog, which company is getting ahead in the game, and so on. For a sample, review this news article:

Vodafone Essar has added more new users in March, upstaging Bharti Airtel and taking the total GSM additions in the month to 10.8 million, 17.4% more than the additions in February. The record growth in the past three months is clear proof of the fact that the world’s fastest growing telecom market remains untouched by the economic slowdown.


India set a world record in January this year by adding 15 million mobile users, the highest ever monthly additions in any country. GSM telcos added 9.7 million in January. But there was a small dip in February to 9.2 million as there were three less working days in the month.

This increase in the number of users is touted as a major factor in the growth of the telecom business in the country and a reason for the decrease in call charges, and this may be true. It is true that the mobile telecom business has expanded like anything. However, a flip side is the quality of these services is dropping like anything.
I have a Airtel post-paid connection in Delhi, and for the past few months, the quality of the service has dramatically come down. As an example, I was traveling with a friend to office, and had to take an urgent meeting over the phone. In the past, it was possible to do this easily enough, all you had to do was to plug earphones into the phone (or use the speaker phone) and you were all set. However, now, in a 45 minute period, the call dropped atleast 4 times. It was mighty embarrassing to suddenly stop hearing the other voice, and realize that the call had dropped (the only reason why nobody made fun of this was probably that they also face similar problems). This is not specific to Airtel, friends having Idea or Vodafone report similar problems.
In fact, there are certain points on my journey where I apologize to people before-hand, knowing that the next 200 meter section of the location will certainly see the call drop (it happens regularly), and calling to customer support had not helped in the past. I would have blamed a phone set if it happened only to me, but it happens to other mobile sets as well. And this is not a new problem (refer this article from 2007). Even 2 years back, problems in telecom service was recognized as a growing problem. From the looks of it, it does not seem that the problem has solved, and TRAI does not seem to be very bothered. The other problem of facing network congestion as a normal day occurrence has also increased drastically.




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