Inadequate spectrum availability has been a key pain point for Indian telecom operators. However, the spectrum shortage has been addressed to a large extent through multiple spectrum auctions across several bands in the past few years. This has allowed operators to expand their network coverage as well as service reach, particularly for next-generation services. The increase in the capacity and coverage of telecom networks has led to increased customer expectations for ubiquitous network availability. Consumers today want seamless connectivity not only in their home circles, but also while roaming across the country.
New entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) has been catering to these expectations by offering free incoming and outgoing calls anywhere in the country. It uses its pan-Indian voice over long term evolution (VoLTE) network for the purpose. RJIL has also promised that it will not charge for voice calls on its network in the future too. By doing so, it has taken a significant step towards abolishing the concept of roaming from the sector. While roaming charges have been an additional revenue source for the incumbents, they have been left with no choice but to do away with these in order to compete with RJIL.
Operators are offering attractive roaming packs to retain customers and enable them to roam freely, without the fear of running up exorbitant bills. To this end, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Vodafone India, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular, among others, have been making efforts to develop a free national roaming ecosystem across the country.
BSNL was the first operator to launch the national roaming facility in a bid to achieve its goal of “One Nation, One Number”. Vodafone, meanwhile, launched free incoming calls on national roaming, the first private operator to do so. According to Vodafone, while outgoing charges on roaming had become comparable to charges in the home circle, consumer research showed that incoming charges were a hindrance to customer usage while roaming. Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular too recently announced their plans to offer free incoming national roaming calls.
tele.net takes a look at the roaming facilities offered by select telecom operators…
BSNL launched its free national roaming facility for incoming calls for prepaid and post-paid customers in June 2015. Later, in June 2016, the operator decided to extend this facility for another year. BSNL also offers a range of roaming rate cutters and special tariff vouchers (STVs), which vary across telecom circles. These packs are priced at Rs 9-Rs 91, and offer reduced tariffs for outgoing calls while roaming across the country. Some of these packs also offer free calling minutes or free SMS services. The validity of these packs varies from one day to 69 days. BSNL also offers a range of combo data and voice packs priced at Rs 192-Rs 3,099, with a validity of one month or two months.
Vodafone India launched its free incoming roaming service in October 2016 and followed it up with a series of bundled packs in December 2016 to encourage its prepaid customers to remain connected while roaming. The packs were priced at Rs 144-Rs 149, and offered unlimited local and STD outgoing calls to Vodafone connections across the country along with free incoming calls on national roaming and 50 MB of data for 28 days. Under the packs priced at Rs 344-Rs 349, it offered unlimited local and STD calls to all mobile and landline connections across the country, along with 50 MB of data for 28 days. According to the operator, the packs were launched with the aim of encouraging not just incoming but also outgoing calls while on national roaming.
In January 2017, the operator extended the benefits of its roaming services to its post-paid customers by launching Vodafone Red bundled packs in some telecom circles. These packs were priced at
Rs 499-Rs 1,999. The packs priced at Rs 499-Rs 999 offer free incoming on national roaming along with varying data, calling and messaging benefits. Meanwhile, the packs priced at Rs 1,299-Rs 1,999 offer free outgoing on national roaming, in addition to free incoming calls while roaming. These packs also offer varying data and calling benefits depending on the plan opted for. According to Vodafone, post-paid customers have a higher usage of data and roaming services. Therefore, these plans were launched to address the data, roaming and calling needs of post-paid customers, and enable them to enjoy seamless connectivity.
In addition, Vodafone has been offering incoming and outgoing calling facility on national roaming under the Vodafone FLEX plans. Customers can get a recharge of Rs 118 and avail of either 162.5 outgoing roaming minutes or 325 incoming roaming minutes. Further, with a recharge of Rs 194, Rs 296 or Rs 398, the customer can avail of 350, 600 or 875 outgoing roaming minutes or 700, 1,200 or 1,750 incoming roaming minutes.
In February 2017, Bharti Airtel announced the “Death of National Roaming” by unveiling its plans to provide free incoming national roaming calling from April 1, 2017. It is the first operator to have abolished incoming roaming charges for both voice and data services. According to the operator, under its national roaming facility, customers roaming within India can avail of free incoming calls and SMSs, and there would be no premium on outgoing calls. The operator also stated that it will abolish additional charges on data roaming as the home data packs will be valid even while roaming across the country. This will allow customers to use data services freely without having to worry about bill shocks.
Airtel offers a range of prepaid as well as post-paid national roaming packs. For its post-paid customers, the operator charges a monthly rental of Rs 99, under which customers are offered free incoming calls on national roaming. Further, all local and STD calls to Airtel’s network or to other networks in the country are charged at Re 0.015 per second. Under another plan priced at Rs 499, all local and STD calls to Airtel’s network or to other networks in the country are charged at
Re 0.012 per second. The operator also recently revamped its myPlan Infinity post-paid plans starting at Rs 499. The pack priced at Rs 499 offers free incoming calls while on national roaming, along with data and messaging benefits. Meanwhile, under the packs priced at Rs 799, Rs 1,199,
Rs 1,599, Rs 1,999 and Rs 2,999, the operator offers unlimited incoming and outgoing calls while roaming nationally along with varying data and messaging benefits.
For its prepaid customers, the operator charges Re 0.80 per minute for local outgoing calls, Rs 1.15 per minute for STD calls and Re 0.45 per minute for incoming calls while roaming nationally. In addition, the operator offers a plan of Rs 35 for its prepaid customers. Under the plan, which has a validity of six months, incoming calls are charged at Re 0.30 per minute for the first month and Re 0.015 per second for the next five months. Further, outgoing calls made from the home circle or while roaming nationally are charged at Re 0.015 per second for six months.
Idea is the latest entrant in the league of operators offering free incoming facility on national roaming. The operator announced its plans to abolish national roaming charges on calls, SMSs and data starting April 1, 2017. As per the operator, both post-paid and prepaid users will not be charged a premium for calls or for data while roaming outside their home network. Moreover, the data pack benefits of the home circle will be applicable even while roaming outside the home circle.
Earlier, Idea had launched rental plans priced at Rs 499 and Rs 999 for its post-paid customers. While the Rs 499 plan offered unlimited incoming calls, the plan priced at Rs 999 offered free incoming and outgoing calls while roaming nationally. In addition, these plans offered data or voice calling benefits or both, depending on the plan opted for. Meanwhile, the operator offers a range of roaming STVs priced at Rs 5-Rs 306 for its prepaid customers across various telecom circles. These plans offer free incoming calls and reduced tariffs for outgoing calls while roaming nationally.
According to the GSM Association, operators across the world must collaborate to remove the cost barrier to roaming and offer customers the convenience of staying connected without running up huge bills. In line with these objectives, operators are expanding their roaming offerings and making a move towards transforming India into a roaming-free region. The current wave of consolidation being witnessed in the sector will further aid this transformation.