Airtel, Vodafone increase pressure over Jio freebies

12 Apr 2017

Disruptive 4G startup Reliance Jio Infocomm’s (Jio’s) new Dhan Dhana Dhan plans have provoked a backlash from incumbent cellcos, which say that the tariffs are near identical to the ‘Summer Surprise’ promotion that the operator was recently instructed to cease offering by the regulator. The Economic Times writes that the two new plans offer Jio’s Prime customers unlimited calls and SMS, plus either 1GB or 2GB of data per day for the next three months, for a one-off payment of either INR309 or INR509 (USD5 or USD8). The plans are also available to non-Prime customers for an additional payment of INR99. By comparison, the Summer Surprise promotion – which the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ordered Jio to stop offering on 6 April, as it did not comply with norms – featured three months of unlimited voice, messages and data for a total of INR402, including the INR99 fee to become a Jio Prime customer and INR303 for the plan itself.

Hitting back at Jio’s Dhan Dhana Dhan offers, a spokesperson for Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile provider by subscribers, said that Jio’s action ‘violates the spirit of the TRAI directive and essentially continues with a similar plan, now masquerading under a different name.’ As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, the newcomer’s promotions, which have offered free services since its launch in September 2016 have sparked a great deal of controversy in the sector, triggering a tariff war between the main players, accelerating the process of consolidation and exacerbating regulatory uncertainty.

Meanwhile, whilst Airtel took aim at the new offers, UK-backed Vodafone India has accused Jio of flouting the TRAI’s directive and continuing to promote its Summer Surprise offer. In a letter to the watchdog, Vodafone claimed that Jio was hiding behind claims that it would take several days to discontinue the plan to continue signing users up to the plan. The TRAI’s order does not affect customers that had already signed up to the Summer Surprise plan, and Vodafone claims that Jio continued to promote the scheme to customers for several days to maximise take up before terminating the plan. According to the British-owned cellco, following the TRAI order, Jio: ‘Has been promoting and luring customers to quickly recharge, to avail the benefits of a non-compliant offer, and also asking its retailer to communicate the same.’ Describing such promotion as a ‘blatant violation and disregard’ of the TRAI’s notice, Vodafone called for the regulator to take immediate action, including withdrawing the offer retrospectively, from the date of the TRAI’s order.