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Operators split, users lose out
- Mobile firms fail to agree on free cell-to-cell incoming calls, termination charge proves stumbling block

New Delhi, Jan. 2: Cellular operators, who announced a cut in STD rates today, are also planning to offer free cell-to-cell incoming calls. However, they failed to drive a consensus on the issue of termination charges and that deprived cellular subscribers of a double bonanza.

Termination charges are sums that an operator pays another for carrying the call to the latter’s customer. For example, when a Hutch subscriber calls an AirTel subscriber in Calcutta or outside, the subscriber pays an airtime charge. Hutch will then pay AirTel a termination cost for carrying the call from the Hutch cellphone user to the AirTel subscriber; the charge is reversed when the AirTel user calls the Hutch subscriber.

Hutch and AirTel have invested an amount to carry the call from the subscribers’ cellphone to their cell sites and then on to their base station(s) and to hand it over at the base station of the other service provider.

The two operators enter into an agreement for a termination charge. This cost is the cause of dispute between those cellular operators who wanted to offer free cell to cell incoming calls and those who opposed it.

Sources at the meeting said: “We feel there are larger issues that need to be taken into consideration before we can offer cell-to-cell free incoming calls. One has to look at the number of subscribers an operator has and what is the cost of operation that is involved in maintaining the network.”

“The major operators with deep pockets may be able to incur the loss in the short term for long-term benefits but this will not be possible for the operators with fewer subscribers and low profits. It is the small cellular operators whose needs and demands that need to be looked into by those propagating free cell to cell incoming calls,” said a source.

Acknowledging that the issue of free cell-to-cell was discussed at the meeting of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), Fausto B Cardoso, president and chief executive officer of BPL Mobile Cellular Ltd, said, “We did discuss the issue and free cell-to-cell is a possibility. The issue will be taken up again.”

While refusing to comment on the terms of negotiation, Cardoso said, “It is an open area that the cellular operators will venture into once the level playing field and other additional charges that are pending before the regulator can be sorted out.”

Another issue of free incoming calls from fixed to cellular was also taken up at today’s meeting of COAI and it was decided that the issue should be taken up with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

“We will certainly take up the issue with Trai that has been pending with them for more than three years. The calling party pays is prevalent in most of the countries where the fixed line subscribers call the mobile operators,” said Asim Ghosh, chief executive officer of Hutch.

“Let the regulator fix the amount for calling party that can be translated into a direct benefit to the mobile subscriber. When the limited mobile operators have this facility, why should the cellular operators be denied it,” asked T.V. Ramachandran, COAI director general.

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