TelecomTalk Analysis : Our Take on Call Drops

By March 31st, 2016 AT 11:35 AM

Call dropped in the middle of a conversation? Call continues without voice? Voice breaks? Call connection failed?
Yes, this is the scenario we are experiencing and hence without the need for any detailed explanation one can get a clear understanding on the problem statement.

In One Sentence: Poor quality of calls experienced by customers
Why this situation worsened from recent times?
We can take multiple reasons into consideration to answer this:

  1. Rapid increase in mobile users
  2. Exponential increase of users actively connected to data services via smart devices
  3. Less spectrum and BTS to cater the needs of increasing demand
  4. Network/Tower/Topology related issues which includes varied reasons
  5. Increase of smart devices with always on data-centric OS and applications
  6. Proper network tuning after utilizing the spectrum with different new technologies – Spectrum refarming
  7. Overloaded cell towers with too many subscribers to handle

What are the reasons for call drops?
Apart from above cited reasons we have other reasons in general as well for call drops:

  1. Device Tx/Rx quality
  2. Battery status of the device
  3. Quality of the handset/Antenna reception
  4. Consumer location at the time of initiating/switching a call
  5. Topological challenges
  6. Signal reception interferences
  7. BTS-related issues

What is the impact on Customer?
Keeping customer first, it affects the overall consumer experience and the consumer perception on an operator.

  1. Bad consumer experience
  2. Hampers the emotional condition of individuals during briefed conversations – especially when one can’t figure out the instance when the call was dropped and the active person speaking on call not sure of the passive person’s last heard instance.
  3. Instances of misunderstanding call drop to be abrupt call disconnection between parties.
  4. For per second tariff users, apart from bad call experience there isn’t much loss to incur while there might be billing issues with per minute tariff users.
  5. International calls/business conference calls have the most effected experiences along with per minute billing.

What is the impact on Operator?

Call drops directly impact the primary offering of a teleco which is voice calls. This influences the perception of the customer on the quality of service offered from the teleco. What really matters to an aggressive operator is brand value / profits and customer perception of quality offering in the end. It’s hard to develop a brand value and it can’t be achieved in a day, so an operator doesn’t take it light in that perspective. So, it really doesn’t make sense to feel that call drops benefit an operator as the fault lies within the boundaries of many parameters. If proper compensation mechanism is not implemented an operator can only benefit with call drops from per minute tariff users, but remember this is at the cost of its own brand and reputation of quality offering. As network planning is on a permanent and a long term strategy, no operator will play with it just for profits from call drops or pre-plan scenarios for call drops. So, doesn’t make sense to think in that perspective. Also industry statistics say that 95 percent of customers are on per second tariff plans, so this doesn’t really hurt the pockets of many customers.

Who bears the actual loss?

While we can’t strongly say it’s only a customer who is losing, we can’t also deny that it becomes a burden at the operator end as well. So, it’s both the customer and operator balancing the wheel. It should be a fair play game. If you blame an operator while being on per minute tariff, Operator says – we are not compelling you to stick with per minute when per second tariffs are available. Also with MNP and NMNP facility available for users there is no strong compulsion from any operator unless or until a user decides to stick with an operator. So, customer has an upper hand here. As a customer if you say this issue exists with all the operators, then there is no particular reason to blame a single operator and that the problem is existent in the industry and needs to be taken care of.

What a Customer can do?

  1. Ensure a good quality handset is being used within budget.
  2. Ensure to have a word of mouth or a quality check before you opt a network in a particular area
  3. Make sure to be on per second tariff plans if call drops are intermittent in your area and you can’t avoid that particular operator. If you want to stick to a particular operator be prepared to face issues till your operator comes up with a possible solution.
  4. With a sense of responsibility or goodwill gesture, do report the signal issues if experiencing any to your operator using various modes of channels to CC. This may help them to trace most issue reported locations and come up with a solution.

Just FYI: Signal bars on phone are not always the measure of quality of signal strength, it may be false sometimes fluctuating now and then.

What an Operator can do?

We are not proposing possible suggestions here. Aggressive operators are already trying their best and we are trying to build a view from end customers’ perspective in this section.

  1. Airtel Project LEAP* is an example of what an operator can do. Reliance/Vodafone/Idea has this information available but not as detailed, interactive and sophisticated as Airtel has. This kind of initiative was suggested almost 7 years back from me keeping in view of a customer, but what sensitive details are put forward to public and the usability of that data to public is all that makes sense as this involves lot of factors including competition, as network is the core asset of a telecom operator.
  2. Considering the network-related feedback seriously from customers reported through various modes, assess the bigger picture and act upon them.
  3. Using big data, analytics and network logs already available with IT and network to identify widely affected areas and look for possible solutions.
  4. An SMS/email update mechanism especially about the network-related complaints raised by customers with details of area, BTS and possible solutions and actions taken by the company may be sent to users so that the process is transparent and customer gains trust or really knows what’s happening with their complaint. In case when an operator is not able to solve the issue, a customer can get the confirmation from operator and switch to a different operator. This benefits the customers mainly and operators will also not have any dissatisfied customers with them whom they really can’t help with.
  5. Strictly having a close eye over performance and transparency of companies outsourced for Network planning and implementation as these are the facilitators/middle layers between Consumer, Network or the Brand to the outside world. Possible scenarios like – is the Network planned as per design and requirement and is the same implemented as per requirement? This is the crucial aspect because due to cost cutting measures taken by various companies and “outsourcing” of these implementations quality delivered may not be same as that of planned and designed. This hampers only the top and end layers which are an Operator and a consumer.
  6. Now a days all the operators are providing self care apps for easy facilitation of services. Integrating these apps with Network complain mechanism in the Care section, so that the application captures Cell ID, GPS Location, Signal Strength, Mobile Number, data speeds, time of the day which are sent back to operator’s servers will be of great use to capture and analyze the bigger picture of the scenario and this helps operators to come up with possible solutions.
  7. There are lots of other possible solutions available with advancing technologies but the feasibility of practically implementing them also matters along with business and profit interests of a company. Already operators are enhancing and tuning their networks with best of the latest technologies like SON, intelligent networks, but the wide benefits a normal BTS gives can’t be compensated with any small coverage solutions while IBS (in-building solutions) can be used inside buildings to enhance indoor coverage and small cells to cover smaller areas of coverage issues.
  8. Increase consumer education via various campaigns on mobile tower radiation and it’s effects.

However, network up-gradations and tuning will be taken care by the company which bagged network contract of the respective teleco under the quality norms specified in the SLA.

What Government can do?

  1. Government can digitize and streamline the complete tower approval and deployment process so that no 3rd party interest obstruct the end to end flow and progress.
  2. Free up unused spectrum and make them available to operators
  3. Spectrum trading and sharing norms – already a +ve nod from the government
  4. A Central body or a completely online process (e-approval) to regulate tower deployment procedures at various levels
  5. Continue its support for a digital revolution

International Scenario & Standards:

While the situation of Call drops is not confined only to India, issue of call drops is prevalent across countries but the radiation norms are very stringent in India. The precautionary EMF safe exposure limits for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) is 1/10th of the safe limits prescribed by ICNIRP in India which is very less compared to other countries. Hence, while ICNIRP insists on a safety margin of 50 times, the Indian government has mandated a safety margin of 500 times for all its operators. Hence, Indian operators need to handle the increasing demand under these stringent norms.

Indian Market Scenario:

But Indian market operates completely in a different style and with lot of typical scenarios.

Our Govt has taken schools, hospitals and other sensitive areas into consideration and fixed safe limits uniform across all locations so that no variations are required at different places. So, one doesn’t need to worry about the fear of radiation and these Non Ionizing Radiations will not have any effect on health. There are also no substantial proofs or medical cases/ evidences prevalent to show the effect of these radiations on health.

Apart from strict norms, points to consider:

  1. Self Certification of all towers has been made mandatory
  2. Department of Telecom Enforcement- Wing conducts periodical audits
  3. Heavy penalty of up to 10 lakh per incident for non compliance

Social, Cultural, Superstitious, Religious, Political, Topology and other factors:

Apart from many of the open scenarios, there are also many under the hood scenarios which are also reasons and posing difficulties to provide seamless experience to end customer. Not to be straight forward or open up certain things, here are a few speculations/reasons as well which directly or indirectly paved way for today’s situation.

  1. Personal interests to lease space/roof top for a cell tower on reasons of rents attained from operators
  2. One shouldn’t see large mass of iron poles or material regularly which is unavoidable if a cell tower is in surrounding areas
  3. Having a mass of iron or huge equipment over the roof top is not auspicious and it feels like adding unnecessary burden to house owner’s life
  4. Unnecessary problems with neighbors and relationship issues
  5. Feeling of insecurity with servicemen entering the location/house for maintenance of cell sites
  6. One can’t enjoy their open space on roof top if a tower is setup
  7. Social interests to install a cell tower on certain community of people only
  8. Political/locality influence not to deploy or deploy cell towers only in places of interest but not as per need basis
  9. Benefits related to outsourced company to procure a site/lease, plan and deploy a cell site
  10. Acquiring cell site lands prior and forcing the outsourced companies to deploy cell sites only in those sites for the benefit of the 3rd parties involved based on various internal relationships
  11. No particular and strict norms for identification of tower equipment and ID tags particular to the infrastructure at a cell site which is documented and stored in database.
  12. New constructions and topological changes in the vicinity of an area which needs network tuning.
  13. No proper maintenance of cell sites at some places
  14. Forceful shut down of cell sites citing various reasons not so true to be valid.

Practical feasibility:

  1. Practically it’s not possible to provide 100% coverage in real life scenarios due to various reasons.
  2. As a known matter of fact theoretical value is never equal to practical value and so as the coverage aspect.
  3. This doesn’t mean call drops can’t be avoided or brought down to regulated levels but need cooperation, dedication and accomplishment at all levels in the cyclic process including you and me.

Also Read: Call Drops: The Reasons and Possible Solutions to ensure #NoCallDrops

Our View: Point by Point

  1. Remember if you want a tower in your area or on your roof top, it can’t be just simply deployed. There is some tower planning mechanism, triangulation method which connects beehive structured cell sites in that particular locality for possible handshake mechanism.
  2. It’s not just about tower agreement & rentals people get, but the feasibility that matters to deploy a tower along with requirement.
  3. It’s not just a matter of investment made by the operator but it should also focus on demand, supply, feasibility and the future.
  4. If there are only limited number of users on an operator in your area and facing issues with network, we better suggest you to stop complaining and switch to another operator available in that locality. It’s not fair enough to deploy a cell site with huge investment just for few users where return on investment is negative.
  5. IBS (In building solutions) can be deployed inside buildings which are of public interests where huge demand from consumer needs to be handled.
  6. A cell site needs (fiber or microwave back-haul) connectivity, electricity and proper maintenance to function in a normal way. Some cell cites work on electricity, some on generators which need regular diesel refills while operators are now switching to solar energy and silent powers.
  7. With 2G/3G/4G being different technologies and different coverage aspects on different bandwidths imagine the difficulty to streamline all the technologies in parallel with no rapid growth of cell sites as per demand.
  8. Possible solution as already implemented by operators to switch and scatter users of different needs to different technologies like voice for 2G/3G and data on 3G/4G.
  9. Also operators can’t just neglect 2G right away in a market like India and concentrate only on 3G/4G where voice on 3G is patchy still. What happens to 2G investment and crores of devices and users who are still using the technology as a primary service?
  10. Lot of process involves with a cell site from insuring the equipment to regular maintenance apart from securing it from natural calamities or act of God.
  11. Small cells though act as alternatives to regular cell sites, it again needs some amount of connectivity and power as well. How many such small cells need to be deployed to replace one regular BTS but still the performance is unmatched.

12.Operators also should be fair in the network related complaint redressal mechanism.

  1. If a Govt train/bus is late, is government compensating users for the delay? No, there are several factors involved and so as the case with call drops. From end user’s device, Network to natural circumstances all are involved and why should an operator compensate in scenarios of varied possible instances?
  2. Also it should be noted that users are not looking for some compensation for dropped calls from operators. First of all I don’t wish my call to drop so that I get some compensation. This is foolish and unnecessary cyclic process both for consumer and operator. No one intends their conversation to break and wish for compensation, where in the end the purpose of making a call and conversing is not served.
  3. Compensating users on per minute tariff (prepaid/postpaid) with very frequent call drops is fair enough, but it needs a lot of logic, considerations and implementations at IT end after drilling the network logs and dashboard of CDR analytics.
  4. Also operators should invest fairly on network optimization and enhancement and take customer feedback seriously be it village or city.
  5. As an example: 8 years back, in my locality due to heavy rainfall a BSNL tower broke down and even till today the complete high revenue area is running on a temporary arrangement which is not so capable to cater the needs where many elders and aged who are still relying on BSNL services come out of their houses and try to converse with lot of difficulty and voice breaks.

Possible reasons BSNL cited after raising complaint with CMD are:

  1. The new tower proposal is not yet sanctioned
  2. Senior authorities are least bothered
  3. We got complete equipment but localities are not allowing tower arrangement

What is the problem? Two groups of people opposing tower installation at the site, one on the grounds of radiation and other on the grounds of rental, neighbor shouldn’t get benefited by it. How about some help from the police? The police are not able to do anything, some local influence. There ended the case and BSNL lost a high revenue area.

Dear R S Prasad Sir, this is the case with our own BSNL and what else can we expect from other operators? And the government speaks of compensating users/spectrum and everything while end users are getting impacted with many such known cases and scenarios.

  1. Everyone wants full signal, but only a few understand the importance and need for the deployment of tower to satisfy the growing demand.
  2. The Drive tests and Coverage simulation tool results may not be 100% accurate and so as the results. The software algorithms that calculate coverage and design solutions not always match the real life scenarios. So, they just cover only a part of the story.
  3. Also operators should take extra care and maintain proper records of the underground cables laid, fiber planning and handling outsourced companies well by making payments on time, treating them fair so that the outsourced company works with dedication and responsibility. This adds value to work as well as business.
  4. Also each cell tower (BTS) have certain threshold value and customer handling limit, once it reaches the peak value after all required and possible trial combinations the system now rejects new call requests or starts dropping calls based on logical preferences. New Year Eve experience is a perfect example that can be cited here. Suppose a BTS can handle 200 customers in parallel and it’s already at peak value, it tries for a possible hand over to next BTS nearby where in failed cases it can’t handle any more new call requests or continue flawlessly the ongoing calls.
  5. Just FYI: Every tower is dependent on few (possibly 2) other nearby towers for providing hand shake and to remain connected for providing seamless connectivity experience. These towers in sync have an angle and positioning rule, there by disturbing 1 tower needs tuning of the rest of the towers in beehive structure to optimize the signal in a specific area. Technical scenario, isn’t it?
  6. This situation is not only confined to voice services but also to data services in a way.

Two sides of the coin:

  1. On one side operators claim no sufficient spectrum made available and government claims something else while there are some operators who are not even ready to invest on the network improvements.
  2. On the other side when operators are ready to invest they still face much kind of hurdles to go ahead where the customer is the victim.

Even my neighbors and family opposes a new tower in our vicinity and it’s my responsibility to educate them and bring awareness. I have done it. So, have you done that today? If not, then please do it.

Remember it’s not just a business or personal requirement, but a complete eco-system we give to the future and for shaping digital India dream true.

Dear users, do let us know your opinions, thoughts and suggestions via comments. You can also share any interesting or weird experiences with me at Srikapardhi[at]telecomtalk[dot]info.

Note: Personal scenarios, experiences and opinions are taken into consideration. All instances or examples may not be 100% right to the fact. Real industry and life scenarios may differ. This analysis just brings my views and opinions on the discussed topic and may not depict the actual scenarios. *LEAP is a project started by Airtel asking users to collaborate for improving network quality.

Passionately following the Indian #Telecom Industry for over a decade from Business, Consumer and a Technical perspective. My primary focus area is Consumer & Digital Experience.

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