Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why do pan-India cellphone service providers charge for roaming

I'm increasingly concerned about the roaming charges levied by pan-India mobile phone service providers (Airtel, BSNL, Reliance, Tata, Vodafone, etc.). Why do Indian cellular service operators charge customers to make/receive calls even when roaming on one's own network? If I'm a Bharti Airtel customer whose hometown is Ludhiana, and if I visit Delhi for a few days, and if I continue to stay on the Airtel network while I'm in Delhi, then why should I pay an extra amount to make/receive calls? From an operational point-of-view, my sense tells me that Airtel probably does not incur any extra expenditure on the calls that I make/receive while I'm in Delhi, then why am I made to pay more?

Case in point: There's no concept of roaming in South Africa (at least for nationwide operators such as Vodacom, to the best of my current knowledge). Whether one's in Pretoria or Cape Town or Durban or Nelspruit, one can make/receive calls at the same rate as one would from/in one's hometown (say Jo'burg). Makes complete sense to me.

PS: It's possible that I'm currently unaware of any interconnect/regulatory cost(s) that pan-India cellular service providers incur when they allow a roaming customer to make/receive calls. However, if there are no such costs involved, charging for roaming appears completely unjustified.


  1. Update (13-Oct-10): Both Idea and Vodafone (I don't know about others) charge more than INR 3.50 for an outward SMS sent while on roaming. How ridiculous is this? This kind of pricing is tantamount to naked exploitation. When Vodafone charges INR 1.00 per minute for local calls made on roaming (INR 1.50 for an STD call), what justification exists for charging more than INR 3.50 for a 160-character SMS?

  2. Update 2 (15-Oct-10): I think wireless operators should refund (a reasonable amount of) money to their customers in the event of a:

    1) Dropped call: A call gets dropped because of network-related issues that are attributable purely to the operator.

    2) Misconnected call: A call is connected to the wrong number, although the user dialed the number correctly. From my experience over the past many weeks, it almost looks like Reliance is using this nefarious "scheme" to increase its ARPU, by purposely misconnecting a few calls (per month) of each of its users, while keeping the magnitude of this activity to a level that doesn't result in Reliance getting caught!

    The underlying principle behind both of the above points is that an operator should pay if the service rendered to a user isn't as expected.

  3. Update 3 (16-Oct-10): ISPs and wireless operators must also provide a SLA that specifies minimum guaranteed uptime, with provisions for discounts/fines for not meeting the guaranteed uptime.

    A few days back, Airtel's Internet connection went down for at least 12 hours, and I faced considerable difficulty, but I couldn't initiate any action against Airtel, nor was I compensated in any way, for there is no SLA accompanying this connection.

  4. Update [10-Apr-15]: This was long overdue.

    National roaming to cost less from 1 May as Trai lowers tariff ceiling