Airtel scraps roaming charges on incoming calls, data

New Delhi: India’s largest telecom company Bharti Airtel Ltd on Monday dropped domestic roaming charges, matching rival Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, as chairman Sunil Mittal urged regulators to encourage consolidation.

In a statement, Bharti Airtel said all incoming calls and messages will be free and no premium will be charged on outgoing calls while roaming across India from 1 April. There won’t be any data roaming charges either, the company said in its statement. Home data packs for customers will apply even while they roam across India.

“This marks the death of national roaming, and the whole country will now be like a local network for our customers, who will not have to think twice before making or receiving calls or using data while travelling outside their home base,” said Gopal Vittal, chief executive of Bharti Airtel.

The move was first reported by The Economic Times on Monday.

Starting 1 April, even customers on international roaming without a pack will be fully protected from “bill shocks” through an automatic adjustment that is equal to the daily pack for that particular country, Bharti Airtel said in the statement.

“This means that the moment a customer’s billing reaches the price of a one-day pack for the country, he/she will be automatically moved to that pack. This will allow our customers to use their devices abroad without any fear,” the company said.

This essentially means that when a customer travelling to the US without a pack hits the threshold of Rs649 (the price of the one-day pack for the US), he/she will automatically move to the one-day pack with free incoming calls/SMSes, 100 India and local country outgoing minutes, 300 MB data and a host of other benefits.

Similarly, a customer travelling to Singapore will move to the one-day pack the moment his/her usage hits the Rs499 mark.

In Barcelona on Monday, in a keynote address at the Mobile World Congress, Mittal said most regulators still live in an “analogue world” and urged them to allow consolidation.

Large countries only need three service providers while smaller ones could be covered by two carriers, he said.

“Governments have got it wrong for too long. Regulators have always felt giving out new licences means more money for the government and more competition for the customers. It’s quite the contrary,” Mittal said.

The comments come days after Bharti Airtel announced the acquisition of Norwegian company Telenor ASA’s India unit, and smaller rivals Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd are considering merging, as competition increases following the entry of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio.

The Airtel chairman said one doesn’t want a situation where there are one or two “healthy” operators while a similar number struggles while other “three or four are in the ICU (intensive care unit)”.

“You really want a few sustainable solid operators, who can put out the investments that are required to deal with the new technologies, demand of data, the speeds that you want. It’s extremely important that the regulators re-calibrate demand,” Mittal said.

He said he was delighted that the Indian government is comfortable with the country having five operators now, from 12 a few years ago. “Probably it will be down to four, let’s see where it ends up,” he said.

Mittal, who is chairman of the GSM Association (GSMA), an international group of mobile operators, also called for an end to international roaming charges.

“As the chairman of GSMA, one of the major tasks to mind is fix the problem of international roaming. The bill shocks are creating a lot of dissonance in the minds of customers,” Mittal said.

“It is time that I call upon the entire fraternity of the telecom sector to come together to kill the international roaming tariffs that are presently prevalent. It is time that we put minds of customers at ease,” he said.


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