The consumers in metro cities are struggling and facing repetitive call drops, and slowing data speeds as the towers in these regions are operating at almost their full capacity. As per an ET Telecom report, the congestion being caused on these towers is causing the data speeds to slow and call drops to occur in turn degrading the quality of service for consumers. As per this report, the towers are running at around 85% to 90% of their full capacity and still struggling to keep up with the demand of the growing data consumption which is mostly driven by the cheap data tariffs.
Average Voice and Data Consumption On the Rise
It is worth noting that as compared to the past year, both data and voice calls have risen dramatically owing to the industry situations. While last year, the average data usage per customer was only 2.5GB, now it has come up to 9.5GB, whereas voice calls have also come up to 820 minutes from the previous average of 400 minutes. Owing to the VoLTE network which uses the internet to route voice calls, more and more voice calls are being routed as data only. However, the thing of concern is that the industry has only been able to install around 50,000 to 60,000 cell sites while the requirement says that at least 100,000 cell sites would be able to suffice current demand.
The mobile phone companies and the telecom equipment vendors have agreed to the mismatch in supply and demand that has occurred in these urban regions leading to a lack of the sufficient number of towers, but even they have blamed their inability to install telecom towers as needed. They have asserted that the telecom operators are opting other methods to try and improve service quality.
Right of Way Clearance Creating Hurdles in the Way of Expanding Capacity
CEO of Vodafone Idea, Balesh Sharma said, “Limited by the spectrum one has, and unlimited on demand is very visible…whoever may say whatever, all networks across the country are practically choked. People like to believe that they are using one-eighth of capacity or 50% of the capacity -- speeds would have been way beyond if networks were relatively free.” Similarly, Anshuman Thakur, Strategy Head of Reliance Jio said that although there are issues like these, they are only in pockets.
Rajan Matthews, the Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said that the industry is facing Right of Way (RoW) clearance problem for the installation of new cell sites. He also added that in some places the telcos are running out of capacity. Matthews said that in the current year, the data consumption can be expected to rise by another 15-20% whereas the voice consumption is likely to stabilise at the current levels, yet there will be the need for another 100,000 towers for improvement in service quality.
Telecom equipment vendors, Ericsson and Huawei, both have said that they are working with the telcos to bring a technological solution for an improved quality of service. Carriers are on the task of deploying massive MIMO, coupled with carrier aggregation and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) to improve quality of service.
Reliance Jio’s Thakur said that it is exploring technological solutions to fill the gaps in capacity. He said, "This (user experience) is a priority for us and we have taken care that congestion does not impact the user experience.”
While Reliance Jio is already having a vast network of 4G across the country, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel are slowly working on expanding their 4G network. Vodafone Idea said that it is building capacity through integration of network and spectrum.