After an extended consultative process, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is all set to tighten the quality of service (QoS) norms and regulations. Telecom service providers (TSPs) will have to submit QoS reports for each state and union territory every quarter and abide by the new QoS regulations, or possibly face stringent penalties.

TRAI has directed TSPs to take ur­gent steps to demonstrate visible improvements in the QoS and quality of experience of consumers. It has asked them to analyse issues of call muting and one-way speech, and take corrective action on priority. In addition, it is looking at metering and billing inconsistencies, and at the gr­owing issue of spam marketing calls and messages. TRAI also wants service pro­vi­ders to carry out audits on at least an annual basis.

In keeping with changing technology, tariffs have also undergone significant ch­an­ges, especially after the increasing popularity of unlimited data or voice plans with fixed tariffs on a daily, monthly or ye­arly basis. These new tariff offerings pro­vide unlimited usage with certain limits under the Fair Usage Policy, shifting the focus from itemised billing to committed volumes of data or voice or SMS. IP-based networks such as LTE and 5G carrying voice over data have also shifted from per-second-based billing to data-volume-based billing. Service providers must now provide advanced, robust and scalable IT pro­ducts for accurate billing of the services be­ing offered to consumers.

Given these technological developments, TRAI has reviewed the Quality of Service (Code of Practice for Metering and Billing Accuracy) Regulations, 2006 al­o­ng with the amendments issued in 2013. It has recently issued the draft Qua­lity of Se­rvice (Code of Practice for Mete­ring and Billing Accuracy) Regulations, 2023. The authority also intends to release a co­nsultation paper on QoS for 5G networks in the next six months or so.

TRAI has released two sets of draft regulations centred on the QoS issue – a set of draft guidelines for audits and an update to the Code of Practice for QoS. It has invited comments from stakeholders, after which it will make suitable amendments.

All basic telephone service providers and cellular service providers will have to submit data across a range of specified QoS parameters on a quarterly basis. The data needs to be submitted in electronic fo­rm within 45 days of the end of each quarter by wired service providers and within 21 days by mobile service provi­de­rs. In addition, the licensed service area (LSA) data that is currently submitted th­rough various private mobile radios wil continue to be submitted.

The authority believes that the analysis of such data is an essential requirement for further optimisation of QoS. The data will include reporting of call drop data at the state level, given the rising instances of service quality issues and consumer complaints. However, the collection of such data presents practical difficulties, according to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which asks that reporting should be done at the LSA level, rather than state-wise.

In its notification of the draft regulation on QoS (Code of Practice for Mete­r­ing and Billing Accuracy) Regulations, 2023, TRAI has stated that service pro­viders should ensure that there is no in­co­n­sistency with respect to tariff structures across platforms. The tariffs, as filed with TRAI, should also be verified via audits for consistency.

TRAI also says that all LSAs should be audited for accuracy of metering and bill­ing at least once every financial year. The audit of billing systems should be done before the audit of the LSAs. This would make it easier to detect errors due to wro­ng configuration, thus leading to wrong charging. In its notifications, TRAI also mentions that service providers are reluctant to share systems with auditors for audit purposes and this needs to change.

Apart from straightening out billing errors and tariff inconsistencies, this is an attempt to check deteriorating QoS, parti­cularly incidences of call drops. TRAI has asked telecom operators to submit data on network outages in every district or state. It has also suggested suitable regulations in this regard.

TRAI has issued directions to curb the misuse of headers and message templates of principal entities by telemarketers and also curb the messages from unauthori­s­ed or unregistered telemarketers, inclu­ding telemarketers using 10-digit telephone numbers.

Data on QoS parameters is currently submitted and chec­ked only LSA-wise. However, TRAI feels that the current system does not highlight outages in any particular district or area, and such outages can go unnoticed since downtime is averaged out across the entire LSA. Hence, TRAI believes that telcos should plan and implement systems for online data collection for QoS benchmar­ks and processing of such data to generate performance reports with granularity at the LSA level, the state level, or even lo­wer, at the district level.

While telcos are mandated to maintain 98 per cent quality, in many scenarios, base transceiver stations take a longer time to be made functional in rural and remote areas. Such problems seem to be more pronounced in the eastern part of the country.

The focus on QoS is part of a concerted effort to ensure improvement in QoS across parameters such as network quality, call drop incidences, billing inconsistencies, spam calls and messages. It is also to ensure that there is no degradation of QoS in existing networks even as the new 5G networks are being rolled out.

Given the scale and size of 5G roll-outs and the new use cases being developed by different industry verticals, TSPs are being asked to implement systems for internal QoS monitoring on a 24×7 and 360-degree basis. The induction of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning may help in QoS monitoring and management.

While most consumers would agree that an improvement in QoS would be welcome, service providers have cited pra­c­tical difficulties in complying with the new proposed standards. This will also entail some costs for them and require the training of auditors, etc. The COAI has noted that it would be administratively difficult for telecom operators to provide QoS data in a state-wise or a district-wise format since the LSAs are often configured across different states and districts.  The COAI has also claimed that there will be difficulties in aggregation and coordination of this data as it will require a new ID system to be set up, which will have cost and time implications.

The authority also has to review the data, look at lacunae and reset the norms due to changes in technology. Telecom te­chnology has undergone significant chan­ges and many new services are now offered by telecom operators. Data has become far more crucial in comparison to voice and its importance is growing exponentially as more and more services, including government services, banking, online retail and other commercial services, are accessed via the mobile.

In this context, TRAI’s renewed focus on QoS will pave the way for better services for customers and drive 5G adoption.

Devangshu Datta