Friday, August 12, 2016

Has Airtel's Open Network Improved User Experience?


It has been two months since Airtel launched its Open Network. Making network quality information available publicly and pushing the consumers to use this information, is an effort on Airtel’s part to increase consumer engagement. Instead of hiding away the network quality information in some obscure landing page, Airtel is delivering the information up front, and actively seeking feedback.

However, there are a number of sites that provide similar information, including rootmetrics, Sensorly and OpenSignal. Airtel does offer some additional information though. These include towers that are needed, towers that are being upgraded, and perhaps most relevantly, towers that have been forcibly shut down.

Telcos blame call drop issues on radiation fears by residents. Towers are covered up, dismantled, or electricity supplies cut off. These lead to call drops because of the creation of holes in coverage areas. Non ionic radiation is not the kind of radiation known to cause cancer. The whole telecom industry has to fight against this perception. The COAI cited experts who argued that fears of cell phone radiation are exaggerated. The sun for example, is also radioactive, and it is the kind of radiation that is known to cause cancer.

Airtel is making public where these towers have been shutdown. In a way, it also shows how long it takes for a tower to come up or be upgraded, for those tracking coverage keenly, in their local areas. Project Leap is also tackling this shutdown issue in another way. Airtel is upgrading its infrastructure with smaller, more compact base stations and equipment. These are more energy efficient, but also, and perhaps as importantly, because of their compact forms, they are less visually disturbing, and much less scary.

Airtel may be appearing to take a number of pro consumer steps, but many of these seem to be suspiciously in anticipation of what they might have been required to do anyway. For example, after the SC axed the call drop penalty, Airtel voluntarily offered to follow more stringent quality of service standards. Soon after, Trai issued a consultation paper contending that the call drop benchmark was anyway too low, and that the acceptable levels for call drops should be revised.

Another example is how Project Leap is working on smaller cells, indoor solutions and Wi-Fi hotspots to improve connectivity indoors. These are technologies that will improve the experience for consumers indoors, especially in hospitals, malls and stadiums. The initiatives are also meant for commercial, residential and industrial complexes. These are aligned with Trai’s in-building access consultation. These are not special efforts, this is just what every telecom company needs to do. Airtel’s efforts at transparency are doing a pretty good second job of promoting the brand.

For its Open Network, Airtel launched aweb site and a mobile app that allowed consumers to see network infrastructure information for themselves. A part of the same information has been available since 2015 because of Airtel’s Project Leap. Project Leap is aptly named because it is a shout out to the concept of “leapfrogging” which is a way for emerging economies to catch up to the sophisticated technological infrastructure of developed nations. Instead of following the same growth trajectory, a “leap” is taken directly to the most cutting edge technologies and platforms available. Is Airtel actually leaping ahead? Or, is it just catching up?

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