Analysis: Indian Telecom Operators limiting calls to customer care at 198

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Few years back TRAI allowed operators to charge for contacting customer care executives at 50p/3min. But on condition that the operator should have a dedicated toll free complaints number 198. While all operators did follow this, but they are limiting number of calls made to 198 per day. So I did an investigation to reveal exact number of calls allowed per day to 198 by each operator.

How did we test?

The first part was to obtain the SIM of every operator available in my circle, Kerala. Since Aircel, Uninor and Videocon services are not available here, they were excluded. I choose non-peak hours of one afternoon and started making calls to 198 one after another till operator limited my calls.


No: of calls allowed: 4

Wait time before connection: 30-60 sec

Airtel limits calls to 198 to a maximum of 4 calls per day. From 5th call onward you will get message to use *121# for more help. When tried to contact customer care via 121 chargeable call, it also gave the same message.



No: of calls allowed: 3

Wait time before connetion: 30 sec

Idea limited calls to 198 to just 3 calls per day. From 4th call onward I got message customer care is unavailable. But interestingly there 458 paid customer care was still available.


No: of calls allowed: 5

Wait time before connevtion: 10 sec

Vodafone has maximum no. of allowed calls to 198. After you reach the limit of 5, you can’t even get connected through paid customer care number. You will get message, request cannot be processed.


No: of calls allowed: 3

Wait time before connection: Instant

Reliance limits calls up to 3 times a day. Both paid and free customer support won’t be available after this limit is reached. On 4th call you get message to visit for more help.


No: of calls allowed: 1

Wait time before connection: 20 sec

I already knew Docomo was notorious for limiting calls to 198. It turns out that they allow just one call to 198 and one more call to paid customer care 121. After reaching the limit you get message that “All customer care representative are busy assisting other customer, please write your complaint to [email protected]


No: of calls allowed to customer care: More than 7 or unlimited

Wait time before connection: Instant (Surprised)

The only operator who doesn’t limit calls is BSNL. Since BSNL customer care is already toll free, the 198 customer is not for Mobile service. I ended up reaching landline automated complaint booking service on 198. I was able to connect to customer care executive 7 times on 1503 and I believe they don’t limit calls


It is now a hard fact that private operators limit calls to customer care and most operators don’t acknowledge this. But I did ask Docomo executive why they limit calls, he said first call will get connected but for subsequent calls other customer will be given priority. I don’t believe this as even at 2AM in morning you can’t get connected on second call to Docomo.

Another observation I made was on quality of the service offered on 198. While all other operators played message “This number is only for complaints” at least two times, Vodafone just say “Happy to help you”  and customer care executive are far more professional and polite than any other operator. On the other hand on my third call, Airtel executive asked me why I was calling for the third time for the same issue.

BSNL stands out among all operators with free customer support and that too without any limits. BSNL has also improved their service were I was connected instantly instead of long wait time. Since it was non-peak hours I was able to connect within 30 sec for all operators expect for Airtel.


Operators may be limiting call to avoid long delay for genuine customers. But it violates the basic right of consumer to complaint for poor service. This is against the guidelines laid out by TRAI. Also most complaints never get solved on first call and sometimes customer care executive itself will ask “Sir please call after sometime as our systems are down”.

As a consumer, do you think operators have right to limit calls to 198 customer care?

PS: Above findings are based on customer care operations of Mobile operators in Kerala circle.

Reported By

An IT professional who has got great passion for telecom. Has been closely watching Indian telecom space since 2009.

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