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‘Free’ roaming comes into effect, Airtel & Idea lead charge
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‘Free’ roaming comes into effect, Airtel & Idea lead chargeNEW DELHI: Telecom majors Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular today announced 'free' roaming packs, paving the way for cheaper roaming across India. Other operators are expected to follow suit soon.

The country's biggest telecom company, Airtel on Monday became the first to announce "free incoming calls" on roaming at a charge of Rs 5 per day. Airtel subscribers can also opt for the one-time pack of Rs 79, which provides free incoming calls on roaming for 30 days.

However, these offers have been doled out to prepaid customers only and there is no word about the same being extended to postpaid users as of now.

Airtel's offer was followed by a similar announcement later in the day by Idea Cellular. The Birla-promoted company is launching two new prepaid vouchers to offer 'free roaming' to its over 123 million subscribers in all 22 circles, without incurring any further charge.

According to Idea, the company will issue two vouchers priced between Rs 230-240, and another priced between Rs 35-40 (denomination to vary across circles), using which a subscriber can get the same rates for local, STD, ISD calling and SMS, as those paid in the home circle.

The incoming roaming charges will be 75 paise per minute for users who avail the Rs 35-40 voucher, whereas incoming is absolutely free for those who avail Rs 230-240 voucher of Idea. Idea users who recharge with the new vouchers will be able to enjoy the roaming benefits for 6 months from the date of recharge.

While Airtel and Idea have taken the lead in rolling out their 'free roaming' offers, other major operators Vodafone and Reliance Communications are yet to make any announcements. Tata DoCoMo has been offering a similar service for past one year.

When contacted, a Vodafone spokesperson declined to confirm if the company was making any announcement regarding its 'free roaming' offer. However, the company is expected to follow in the footsteps of Airtel and Idea soon.

"We cannot commit as to if and when we will make any announcement," said the spokesperson.

With the market leaders entering the fray with their 'free roaming' offers, albeit with riders, other companies will be under pressure to make their announcements sooner than later.

On June 17, Trai had announced that telecom operators can allow free national roaming if users pay a fixed fee. This order comes into effect from July 1. However, Trai has also said that completely free national roaming, as envisioned by telecom minister Kapil Sibal, is not practical.

Trai chairman Rahul Khullar said operators have been mandated to provide two types of roaming plan for customers.

"In one case, charges on incoming will be free but a fixed charge will be levied and in the other regime you don't give free incoming and there will be no fixed charges. The philosophy of authority is let customers decide what they want... competition in the market will help in driving tariffs down," he said.

The regulator also reduced the national roaming charges by up to 57%. The cap on roaming charges prescribed by Trai in 2007 is Rs 1.40 per minute for outgoing local calls and Rs 2.40 per minute for outgoing STD calls.

This has now been reduced to Re 1 per minute for outgoing local calls and Rs 1.50 per minute for outgoing STD calls. Similarly, the ceiling for incoming calls while on national roaming has been reduced from Rs 1.75 per minute to 75 paise per minute under the new order.

In a submission to Trai in April, Anil Ambani-led RCom had countered the contention of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone that 'free roaming' services will hit operators' revenues, saying the growth in business will help recoup any losses and help expand the overall market significantly.



Source: Times of India

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