Airtel’s self regulation is a smart branding move


Bharti Airtel has decided to voluntarily set a maximum permissible call drop limit for itself, which is more stringent than the cap prescribed by the telecom regulator.Experts described Airtel’s step as a smart branding move in the face of Thursday’s Supreme Court judgment striking down the telecom regulator’s order to telcos to pay penalties to consumers for call drops.

India’s No. 1 telco with over 250 million subscribers allowed itself a maximum drop of 1.5% of all calls made on its network, compared with the present 2% limit prescribed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
Additionally, the company is setting aside a corpus, capped at Rs 100 crore annually, to be derived from penalising itself on exceeding its new internal benchmark, for educating underprivileged children in rural areas, Airtel said in a statement Thursday. The telco will contribute Rs 1 lakh for every 0.01% increase in call drop rate beyond 1.5% every month in each circle of operation.The company will report its quality of service (QoS) data and the amount calculated on a quarterly or annual basis to ensure transparency. “This self-regulation on quality of service further underlines our commitment to our customers despite the challenges of limited spectrum availability and acquisition of sites in urban areas,” Gopal Vittal, managing director at Bharti Airtel, said in the statement.

During FY16, Airtel invested over INR 15,000 crore across India towards deployment of over 88,000 sites. This is the largest network deployment anywhere in the world outside of China and reinforces our sharp focus on building a future ready network,” Vittal added.Bharti Airtel’s latest exercise is being viewed by brand experts as a smart, soft-branding move that will help India’s No 1 mobile carrier emote better with consumers and also build a protective shield against any punitive move from the government that might be in the offing.

The Sunil Mittal-led telco’s self-regulation on the call drop front came a day after the Supreme Court struck down Trai’s order asking telcos to compensate customers for call drops, a ruling which didn’t go down well with consumer groups looking to make telcos liable for falling call quality.Though relieved with the apex court verdict, mobile operators are wary of the negative perception in consumer minds arising from increasing instances of call drops.
Brand strategy specialist Harish Bijoor described Airtel’s call drop self-regulation as an innovative soft-branding move.”With a single stroke, Airtel has postioned itself as a caring, responsible brand, and will accordingly emote well with subscribers, the Trai and the government, apart from leveraging the advantage of being the first mover in addressing the call drop problem,” said Bijoor.

According to a top industry executive, Vodafone is likely to announce a similar customer-friendly initiative shortly but the company declined to confirm this. ET’s email to Vodafone India did not elicit a response.
Santosh Desai, managing director at Future Brands Ltd, described the Airtel move as “pro-society” and “sensitive”, which will eventually resonate well with consumers.
“It’s a timely and well thought-out move that could also build a protective barrier for Airtel against any punitive move in the offing from the government side,” Desai told ET.

Hemant Upadhayay, advisor (Telecom & IT) at Consumer Voice, a leading consumer group, however, was more sceptical.”Airtel’s move appears to be a clever tactic to pre-empt any potential government move of giving Trai more power to force telcos to compensate consumers for call drops,” he said.

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