Call Drops debate: Why blaming a subscriber's cheap smartphone makes little sense

While the COAI gave all of us another call drop shocker to ponder over, they missed out on one big point.


It has been one long debate that has been ranging on into 2016 as well. We are talking about the call drop situation where the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been blaming telcos (and vice versa) in what appears to be a never ending blame game in which neither refuses to give up.

Recently, TRAI did come to a conclusion (it just had to) when it suggested that operators should compensate a subscriber with Rs 1 for every call drop, all hell broke loose indeed. While subscribers were cluelessly happy about the announcement, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) was in shock and now we have court battle where senior lawyer Kapil Sibal gave all of us another shocker to ponder over.

Sibal who represents the COAI, is of the opinion that operators can do little if it is the subscribers who use cheap or inferior mobile phones. He claimed that 36 percent of call drops take place due to inferior or grey market smartphones that cannot hook on to a network properly. But there's more. As per a survey conducted by COAI, 67 percent of call drops took place due to signal failure and this was due to factors that are (strangely) out of control of  operator; like tall buildings between a phone and the tower, cell phone jammers, restrictions in border areas and even a busy network.

Telecom operators do not offer services for free

Clearly, controlling the airwaves is nothing a consumer can do and is the reason why we as subscribers pay operators to begin with (on a regular basis). We pay them not just for the current services, but so that we can connect to a stronger network in the future, that does not cut off the minute you step into a street enclosed with tall buildings. So it is not the subscribers problem if a phone is unable to hook on to a network, but operator who is providing the network. But this is not the important bit. The shocking discovery was Sibal's first claim that is to do with cheap smartphones not being able to hook on to networks.

COAI vs Smartphone manufacturers?

This is something that could indeed trigger a war of sorts, adding to the COAI's existing headache that could this time come from smartphone manufacturers themselves. Indeed, this could even lead to subscribers being forced to buy smartphones that are locked to operators like what we have abroad in the US. This results in smartphones that have been tuned to connect to a type of network and something that would have made the COAI's point valid.

Why Sibal's point is invalid

We do agree that smartphone design is changing drastically these days with smartphones getting slimmer and antennas that are completely hidden (no more pole antennas like the cool nineties). More importantly, the smartphone industry is facing another problem, increased competition.

And with competition, there is either innovation or lowered price tags. For now things seems to be going with low price tags and smartphone manufacturers announcing smartphones that go big on performance and low on price. Something that is in short leading to cheaper smartphones.

While Sibal has put out a strong statement blaming consumers, the COAI also needs to check into the fact that it is giving out SIM cards and not cellphones to its customers. We could have understood if the operators that form the COAI are giving out operator locked smartphones that have been tested and approved on their networks by them, but this isn't the case and TRAI now has one more reason to bite back.

While we thought the show was finally ending, Sibal's claims may spark another war, so we might as well grab another bucket of popcorn and enjoy the show.


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