- Reliance Jio prepping to launch 4G network
- Other telecoms say it’s offering free services to lure customers
- Telecoms say Reliance test phase is cover for full-blown services
The rollout of the nation’s biggest 4G broadband network, Reliance Jio, has forged a hardcore fight between the company, which is controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, and all other telecoms in India.
Reliance Jio has not yet officially launched – that will happen “in the coming months,” Mr Ambani said recently.
But carriers like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone that already offer 4G or fourth-generation mobile services 4G say that the Ambani telecom is ripping them off by pretending to be in testing phase while offering users free data and calling. As a result, they say, their customers are being poached by the new multi-billion dollar kid on the block.
Essentially, the other carriers argue, Reliance Jio is using 4G airwaves free of cost, claiming that it is in “pre-launch” mode, and other telecoms are losing out, along with the government on revenue.
The telecom sector’s main association, the Cellular Operators Association of India or COAI counts all major carriers, including Reliance, as members. But on Monday, the body wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office that Reliance is “luring customers” by offering free “commercial services in the name of beta testing.” As a result, the association alleged, Reliance was stealing the march by winning as many users as all other carriers combined.
“In a highly competitive and charged environment, one should not be surprised at a few elbows flying around when one is trying to position oneself,” said Rajan S Mathew, who heads the association. But he added, “There are genuine issues about testing and commercial operations.”
Reliance has countered by accusing the association of functioning as “a mouthpiece for incumbent dominant operators” and has threatened to take the agency to court.
The hostility between Reliance and its competitors began two months ago when it accused them of not providing enough interconnect ports for seamless connectivity – Reliance Jio users found it difficult to connect to other networks. This, Reliance argued, was a form of cartelization designed to punish its users.
Airtel, Vodafone and Idea among others denied the accusation and said Reliance was offering full-blown services while using their airwaves (because they are already functional in the 4G space) under the guise of testing its signal strength.
The government has not commented on the war but sources in the Telecom Ministry that it wouldn’t take sides and expects the regulator – Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or TRAI – to settle the dispute.
However, the fight is likely to escalate next month when all carriers will compete in India’s largest-ever auction of spectrum.