Notwithstanding claims of the government and mobile operators, the problem of call drops and mobile network issues persist, according to the findings of an audit conducted by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on the quality of services (QoS) provided to phone users.
The regulator made the findings public even as Vodafone's representatives in Mumbai opposed them on the grounds that "there was a large variance between its results and the company's own experience and information on performance of its networks". Representatives were concerned and sought the details of the audit methodology as a result.
TRAI started auditing and assessing the quality of services in June 2015 as it received scores of complaints regarding call drops and poor network coverage from various sections. The regulator directed the operators to submit a performance monitoring report every three months.
Accordingly, the regulator started conducting independent drive tests in seven cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Indore, Pune, and Surat to assess coverage quality. It completed the tests twice last June, with the third test conducted between December 21 and January 25.
While the distance of the drive test was 600km each in Delhi and Mumbai, it was around 300km in the other cities. The first two audits tested only 2G networks with 3G networks added in the third round.
Indian Minister for Communications and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad and other officials spent an hour in Indore conducting the test to check telecom network quality and improvements in call drops.
"The entire exercise was to ensure greater connectivity, professionalism, and monitoring," Prasad told reporters later.
The minister found the quality was good in the city but was below standards on the outskirts.
According to the TRAI audit report, network coverage was slightly better in Delhi and Mumbai but remained poor in other cities, and all telecom companies failed to meet the standards for quality of reception. Voice services in Delhi and Bhubaneswar were below standard and were far worse in Pune.
In Mumbai, only CDMA telecom firms met the TRAI's quality benchmark. The ability to set up a call successfully and the rate of blocked calls have improved in the case of some players in Delhi and most telecom companies in Kolkata.
The poor quality of services is attributed to the shortage of spectrum availability and also due to non-investment in strengthening of networks. Many towers in such areas had to be removed in residential zones following court orders.
However, Prasad told parliament in December that 29,000 new telecom towers were installed by private telecom operators across the country after the government took strong exception to the problem of call drops.
"The government is constantly monitoring the call drop situation and regularly asking the telecom operators to take corrective steps to improve it," the Minister added.
Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India Rajan S Mathews told ZDNet there were differences in the findings of TRAI and that of the service providers. He said they were trying to figure out the anomalies in the measurement metrics with the regulator to sort out the issues.
"There has been an improvement in the services in many areas except in Mumbai and Pune, where we are hopeful that the problems would be solved in the next nine months or a year," he said.
According to Mathews, the quality of services in Delhi improved vastly because the government played a proactive role in providing sites for the erection of cell towers on government land.
"We are also taking up extensive educational programs along with TRAI to create awareness among people that there will be no harm from the cell towers if they were installed in their neighbourhood," he added.