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Mobile users want more

Good is not good enough. That’s the message emerging from the findings of the cell-survey, showing Command and Airtel suffering on the perception, rather than the performance, count.

The consumer feedback about the two players in Calcutta’s mobile market finds both taking a beep beating, with Command doing better than Airtel on almost every score (see box).

The objective rating of the two cell-phone service providers by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) was, however, nearly up to the mark.

Both the companies have said the study, carried out between October and December, 2001, by Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB), on behalf of Trai, was “not relevant any more”, as “much had changed” since then.

Trai chairman M. S. Verma had also cautioned, while unveiling the findings last Wednesday, that the survey might not reflect the present scenario.

Deepak Gulati, chief executive officer of Bharti Mobitel, which owns the Airtel and Magic brands, said the network had been completely overhauled and the deficiencies indicated by the survey no longer exist.

“Airtel should not be held responsible for the deficiencies of the previous Spice network. The network we took over needed a lot of improvement and expansion. The survey refers to a period when we were revamping it,” said Gulati.

Bharti acquired the Spice network in July 2001 and launched Airtel in December-end after a network revamp, “meeting the standards set internally by the company”.

Airtel claims to have invested “over Rs 100 crore” on its Calcutta service. This is a figure Command, the mobile market leader in Calcutta, says it has matched.

Sunil Sood, chief operating officer of Usha Martin Telecom, that owns the Command brand, expressed surprise at the consumer response, particularly as in the objective evaluation, it met the standards under nearly every parameter of service provided — from faults to network, from billing to refunds.

“We have been increasing the call-carrying capacity of our network constantly to avoid congestion. We have also introduced a new technology, provided by Motorola, to improve voice clarity,” said Sood.

But mobile-users covered by the survey were far from satisfied, in a city that has witnessed constant juggling of cellphone services, from tariff slashes to customer sops.

Command met the Trai standards in the objective evaluation of service and technology, but in the subjective assessment based on consumer response, it failed to make the grade on overall performance and network reliability.

Airtel’s network, however, was found deficient in Trai’s objective assessment too, and its consumer-perception score fell well below Command.

Airtel scored a mere 66 per cent in consumer perception on overall service quality, falling short of the Trai benchmark of 85 per cent. Command’s subjective score was 84 per cent. Network performance for Airtel was an abysmal 68 per cent, with Command scoring 85 per cent.

Gulati brushes aside the ’01 findings: “Airtel’s network in Calcutta is among the best in the country, offering 2.5G network in Calcutta with technology provided by Siemens. The next survey will certainly reflect the true quality of our service now.”

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