Vi's new tariff plan to create barrier for subscribers: Jio to regulator

Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) has written to the telecom regulator to look into the Vodafone Idea’s (Vi) new prepaid tariff plans that Jio said would create a “barrier for subscribers” wanting to port out, two persons familiar with the matter said.

In a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) sent last week, Jio said as per Vodafone Idea’s new tariff plans for prepaid consumers, SMS services had been moved to a higher tariff plan of Rs 179 – from Rs 149 – which would discourage subscribers from porting out to other service providers, one of the persons quoted earlier told ET.

In September this year, as many as 10.10 million subscribers submitted their MNP requests with their respective telecom carriers, increasing the cumulative porting requests to 638.25 million.

Vi graphicsET Bureau

The Vodafone Idea move means a customer who wants to port out needs to subscribe to a higher plan to be able to send an SMS, which is mandatory to process the request. As a result, users at the lower end of the plans can’t port out, and those who shift to a higher plan may not want to shift out after making the higher payment, creating a barrier for porting, the second person said.

The Mukesh Ambani-owned telco has suggested that to address the situation, Trai may either consider making such SMSs (short message service) free or remove the need for the service totally for porting purposes, the first person said.

Mobile number portability (MNP) requires subscribers to first send an SMS to their service operator. Upon the MNP request’s approval, a further process is initiated which may take three to five days for the user to move to a rival telco, while retaining the same number.

Jio did not respond to ET’s queries on this story.

A person familiar with the Trai’s processes said the regulator was examining the issue, adding that while the regulator hasn’t decided its mode of action, it will ensure consumers have all the flexibility of choice.

Following Bharti Airtel’s prepaid tariff revision, Vodafone Idea too increased its pricing in order to increase the average revenue per user (ARPU), revising the minimum pack of Rs 149 to Rs 179, offering unlimited calling, 300 SMS and 2GB data. Jio has also followed suit, but its prices are about 13% lower than its rivals.

Vodafone Idea, which lost 18.8 million users just in the last year, ended the September quarter with 253 million users. The loss-making telco is desperate to arrest and then reverse the trend of subscriber losses. It had 408 million at the time of merger between Vodafone India and Idea Cellular in August 2018.

New customer acquisition is also crucial for Jio, which has 429.5 million users, but lost 11 million in the July-September quarter. The telecom market leader is pulling out all stops to touch a 500 million user base. Towards this end, it launched JioPhone Next – an affordable 4G smartphone developed with Google to rope in more feature phone users, most of whom are with Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel and use lower priced plans.

As of end September, Jio’s ARPU was Rs 143.6, while Airtel and Vi clocked in ARPU of Rs 153 and Rs 109 respectively.

A non-profit organisation, Telecom Watchdog, had also last week, written to Trai, with a similar complaint to Jio’s.

“We are highly surprised to note that such kind action by Vodafone Idea has gone unnoticed so far as TRAI has not initiated any action to protect the interest of consumers. In fact, the SMS services should be in the lowest tariff plan. We request for your urgent intervention to stop this abuse/malpractice against the consumers,” the non-profit’s letter to Trai chairman, dated November 25, stated.


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