Project Fi Introduces Group Plans to Allow Six Members on a Single Plan

Project Fi Introduces Group Plans to Allow Six Members on a Single PlanYou can now add your friends from college or your family members to your Project Fi plan, as Google has finally introduced plans for groups. With Project Fi’s group plan, users can now have up to six people on one plan. Users can add new members to the group for $15/month (roughly Rs. 1,000) per line to get Fi Basics, which includes unlimited calls and texts.

Just like the company’s individual plans, users will have to only pay for the data that they use at a price of $10/GB (roughly Rs. 670). The amount of data left unused will be credited back to the users in dollars and cents, the company said in its blog.

The company clarifies that “Members can easily join and leave a plan as they please without having to worry about fees.” The plan owners and users will both be able to keep a track of their data usage from the Project Fi app by Google and managers will also be allowed to see the usage per member. Further, both group members and managers can set notifications from the app to keep a check on the data that is being used.
To get users started with Project Fi’s group plans, the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P smartphones are being offered with discounts of $150 (roughly Rs. 10,000) and $100 (roughly Rs. 6,700) respectively, when they buy and activate through Project Fi. Users can create the groups from their Fi account page.

Vodafone, Airtel, BSNL, Idea Offer Free Data, and More

Telecom operators are leaving no stone unturned to woo consumers at Diwali, popularly known as the festival of lights in India. Soon after Vodafone announced a special Diwali offer that will offer users 100MB of free data on November 11, Idea and Bharti Airtel have also come with offers for their subscribers.

Idea Cellular has introduced its all-new Idea Freedom Packs with which the company is targeting limited subscribers including students, housewives, and new users. Under the new Idea Freedom Pack (available only for prepaid users), the company is offering up to 300MB 2G data at Rs. 100 and up to 500MB 3G data at Rs. 175. Both the packs come with a validity of 28 days.

Announcing the new packs, Sashi Shankar, Chief Marketing Officer, Idea Cellular said, “Idea Freedom packs target those consumers who want to stay digitally connected throughout the month, however at 30-40% lower costs. These packs would help us enhance convenience for prepaid customers, who have to otherwise depend on multiple sachet recharges to manage their costs and internet needs throughout the month. These packs could serve as a one stop solution for them.”

Bharti Airtel, on the other hand, has announced multiple offers catering to various subscribers. The latest pack from Airtel offers new smartphone users up to Rs. 750 for signing up for the company’s data packs. The company late last month had introduced 50 percent daily cashback offer for mobile data. Airtel subscribers under the offer received daily morning credit of 50 percent of data, be it 2G ,3G or 4G, that they consumed between 12am to 6am.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has announced two special recharge vouchers that come with reduced call rates and also offer free talk-time. The new special tariff vouchers include STV35 (Rs. 35) offering local and STD voice calls to any network at Rs. 0.20 per minute, and STV48 (Rs. 48) offering 80 free minutes on local and STD calls on any network on national roaming. The company has confirmed that the special vouchers can be only availed till November 17. Notably, the new special vouchers come with limited validity.

Apart from 100MB free data, Vodafone India for its subscribers in South has also introduced ‘One Rate, One South’ pack in five south states. The Rs. 57 pack will offer outgoing mobile calls (local, STD and while roaming) at Rs. 0.01 per second in South India. The five states which will get the offer include Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.

Vodafone is also offering its subscribers in Mumbai the chance to win an iPhone 6s by sharing their selfies on Facebook with hashtag Vodafone Diwali (#VodafoneDiwali).

Telecom Firms Gear Up for Deals as Competition Heats Up

India’s crowded telecoms sector is preparing for a long-awaited shake-up as highly indebted players jostle for access to costly airwaves and brace for the launch of a deep-pocketed new rival backed by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Ambani owns oil-to-retail conglomerate Reliance Industries, which is expected to begin offering fast data services across India by early 2016.

With about 980 million wireless users, India’s mobile market trails only that of China. But despite impressive growth rates, many firms are struggling with balance sheets stretched by costly spectrum auctions and rock bottom tariffs, making the telecoms sector in India prime for mergers and consolidations.

In the first such move in seven years, Reliance Communications (RCom), owned by Ambani’s younger brother and rival Anil, has agreed to buy Russian group Sistema’s Indian mobile phone business.

“One thing is clear: India has too many players and too much regulation in this space. Not everybody can make a profitable business out of it on a sustainable basis,” said a telecoms and technology M&A banker with a leading US bank.

“The dealmaking conditions were ripe for many years, but the push is now coming from Reliance’s entry into the sector,” he said. “There will be a few more deals happening over the next couple of years, and some (players) will fall by the wayside.”

The arrival of Reliance Industries into the sector, under the brand name Jio, will further squeeze players such as RCom and Bharti Airtel.

Bankers expect smaller players to be pushed into the arms of larger rivals, bulking up to battle Reliance’s Jio.

Currently most carriers operate on wafer-thin margins, with 8 of the dozen carriers, including Aircel a unit of Malaysia’s Maxis Communications Bhd and Tata Teleservices, holding a market share of less than 10 percent, according to sector regulator Trai.

Players including Aircel, which owns coveted 3G and 4G spectrum, could be a likely buyout target, analysts and bankers said, in a market overshadowed by large players including Bharti Airtel and the Indian unit of Vodafone. Aircel did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Tata Teleservices, the seventh-biggest mobile operator, is, according to sources, looking for a buyer for the stake Japan’s NTT DoCoMo owns in the joint venture. DoCoMo decided to pull out last year, as the JV did not meet performance targets.

RCom’s Monday deal gave it access to more high-speed fourth-generation spectrum that Sistema owned, critical at a time when there is a huge demand for quality and fast data connection as more Indians access the Internet through their smartphones.

Others will follow suit, bankers and analysts said.

“The industry world over has three to five major players. India has to follow that,” said Hemant Joshi, a partner at consultancy Deloitte in India.

Aircel to Launch 3G Services in 61 Towns in Bihar by Year-End

India’s leading private telecom service provider, Aircel, Thursday announced an aggressive expansion plan of its 3G network in Bihar by adding 61 new towns to its network by December this year, an official said.

For expanding its 3G services, Aircel will set up 600 towers across Bihar to provide seamless connectivity to its constantly growing subscriber base, Aircel Bihar’s business head Hitendra Kumar told reporters.

In order to provide quality service to its customers, the leading private telecom operator will set up 600 new towers in addition to existing 3,300 towers, he said.

The expansion to new towns is set to significantly benefit a large number of Aircel customers in Bihar and redefine their data usage experience with a maximum 3G speed of up to 7.2 Mbps, he said, adding that the Aircel customers in these towns soon will be able to consume live streaming videos, HD content, gaming, social networking and browsing at very high speeds.

“The population of 3G users that expects a seamless experience is dramatically increasing, especially as mobile handsets are increasingly being used for varied purposes. We have been working tirelessly to live up to this expectation of our customers and hence, we’ve redoubled our effort in expanding our 3G network all across Bihar. We are confident that by extending our 3G network to these 61 new towns across districts in Bihar, the Aircel network will prove to be the most reliable data companion of our customers for their smart devices,” Kumar said.

The 61 new towns include Arrah, Buxar, Motihari, Sitamarhi, Lakhisarai, Begusarai, Dighwara, Bettiah, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Purnia, Nalanda, Biharsharif, Munger among others, the Aircel Bihar Business Head said.

On availability of 4G mobile service in Bihar, he said that Aircel provides such service to its business customers.

Nokia Reports Stronger-Than-Expected Profits for Q3

Nokia, the world’s No. 3 network equipment maker, on Thursday reported stronger-than-expected profits as growth in China offset weaker demand in North America and Europe, and announced a new shareholder return plan.

The Finnish company said it would return EUR 4 billion (roughly Rs. 28,689 crores) to shareholders in the coming years through dividend payments and share buybacks.

Nokia, which this month secured regulatory approval for its proposed EUR 15.6 billion (roughly Rs. 1,11,498 crores) takeover of French rival Alcatel-Lucent, also brought forward its EUR 900 million cost savings target for that deal by one year to 2018.

Third-quarter operating profit at the company’s network unit was EUR 391 million, or 13.6 percent of sales.

That was roughly in line with EUR 397 million a year earlier but significantly above analysts’ average forecast of a profit of EUR 297 million and a margin of 10.2 percent, according to a Reuters poll.

Analysts had been wary about Nokia’s earnings after market leader Ericsson this month posted disappointing results, citing slowing demand in China.

“Although (Nokia’s) sales were down, the profitability in networks was excellent. Performance in China was particulary good,” said Mikael Rautanen, analyst at Inderes Equity Research, who has a reduce-rating on the stock.

Nokia also lifted its full-year profitability forecast for the networks unit. It said the operating profit margin would be around or slightly below the high end of its long-term target range of 8-11 percent, compared to its earlier forecast of a margin around the midpoint of that range.

Nokia last year sold its once-dominant phone business to Microsoft, and in August, it agreed to divest its navigation business HERE to German car makers.

Government Notifies Operators of Spectrum Trading Norms

The government on Tuesday notified the much-awaited spectrum trading norms, more than a month after the cabinet nod, thus allowing telecom service providers to start to trade airwaves that in turn will help in service quality improvement.

According to the guidelines, spectrum trading will be allowed only between two access service providers, holding Cellular Mobile Telephone Service (CMTS) License, Unified Access Service License (UASL), Unified License (Access Services)(UL(AS)) and Unified License (UL) with authorization of access service in a licensed service area.

Spectrum trading will also not alter the original validity period of spectrum assignment as applicable to the traded block.

Both the licensees trading the spectrum will jointly give a prior intimation for trading the right to use the spectrum at least 45 days before the proposed effective date of the trading as per prescribed format to wireless adviser, wireless planning and coordination wing in the department of telecommunications.

Reacting to the development, Cellular Operators Association of India director general Rajan. S. Mathews told IANS that it was “in line with what the industry wanted”.

“It will lead to consolidation, efficient spectrum usage and activities in few key circles. It is not a game changer, but it is important,” he said.

The guidelines also say that a service provider who wants to sell allocated spectrum will need to convert it into tradeable airwaves by paying a market price to the government.

Spectrum trading will be permitted in 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 and 2500MHz bands, and the seller should clear all its dues prior to concluding any agreement for spectrum trading. Thereafter, any dues recoverable up to the effective date of trade shall be the liability of the buyer.

“The government shall, at its discretion, be entitled to recover the amount, if any, found recoverable subsequent to the effective date of the trade, which was not known to the parties at the time of the effective date of trade, from the buyer or seller, jointly or severally,” the guidelines said.

“The buyer should be in compliance with the prescribed spectrum caps declared from time to time. It is clarified that the spectrum acquired through trading shall be counted towards the spectrum cap by adding to the spectrum holding of the buyer,” they added.

Mathews said the industry has requested government to take a re-look at the caps.

The guidelines also hold that a telecom service provider will be allowed to sell the spectrum through trading only after two years from the date of its acquisition through auction or spectrum trading or administratively assigned spectrum converted to tradable spectrum.

If the buyer is acquiring a part of the spectrum holding of the seller in a spectrum band, then both buyer and seller will have spectrum holding in that band after the trade, it clarified.

If any TSP sells only a part of its spectrum holding in a band, both buyer as well as seller, will be required to pay the remaining instalments of payment, prorated for the quantum of spectrum held by each of them subsequent to the spectrum trade.

“A non-refundable transfer fee of 1 percent of the transaction amount of the trade or 1 percent of the prescribed market price, whichever is higher shall be imposed on all spectrum trade transactions, to cover the administrative charges incurred by government in servicing the trade. The transfer fee shall be paid by the buyer to the government,” it added.

The seller should clear its Spectrum Usage Charges (SUC) and its instalment of payment due till the effective date of trade and thereafter, the buyer shall clear all these dues.

SMS-Based Investment Scams

Concerned over a spurt in investment scams perpetrated through SMSes, WhatsApp and social media, Sebi has beefed up its surveillance on such platforms and is seeking greater cooperation from the mobile and Internet service providers, as well as banks, to nail the culprits.

The market trading activities have seen a major upsurge in recent months, but this positive environment is also leading to many fundamentally weak stocks generating interest.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has enhanced surveillance on such securities so as to ensure that no unscrupulous players take genuine investors for a ride.

The modus operandi revealed by this enhanced vigil typically includes tax evasion through bogus gains or losses through stock market platform; trading on the basis of Unpublished Price Sensitive Information; and certain Indian and overseas entities engaging in fraudulent activities of manipulating GDR route.

This vigil has also unearthed a large number of cases where unregistered entities are indulging in fraudulent act of luring investors to securities market through false and unrealistic SMS claims, a senior official said.

To check this menace, Sebi has enhanced its surveillance to catch such scamsters and the number of requests to the mobile operators, internet service providers and banks have gone up significantly in the recent months.

While most of the requests are being adhered to on time, some telecom operators have been found to be lax in replying to the information requests from Sebi, the official said.

The matter would be taken up with the Telecom Ministry if the requests remain pending despite further reminders, he said while adding that banks have been relatively more cooperative.

Typically, the gullible investors are first lured by these scamsters through SMSes, WhatsApp messages and posts on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, after which they are given certain bank account numbers to deposit money.

The mobile numbers and URLs, as also the bank account numbers, become the mainstay for the investigation by Sebi, ownership details of which help the regulator reach the perpetrators of such manipulative activities.

Besides tightening its noose on the scamsters, Sebi has also enhanced its investor awareness campaign on these issues.

In a latest public notice, the capital markets regulator has cautioned the investors against trading on the basis of unsolicited tips received through SMSes, social media, websites and other public media platforms.

It also asked the public to deal with only Sebi-registered investment advisers and research analysts and warned the unregistered entities of strict action.

Sebi has already taken action against seven such entities for providing investment advice without registration.

Leading bourse BSE also said that “investors are cautioned against SMS tips to buy certain scrips suggesting increase in their market price”.

“Do not blindly follow these tips and do thorough analysis about the company before investing,” it added.

Cautioning the investors, NSE also said, “Do not trade on the basis of SMS tips”.

Government Says Performance of 16,962 Cell Towers Improved

Aiming to address the issue of call drops, the government has conducted a special audit of cell towers and said that of 34,600 cell towers operating poorly, about 16,962 have improved their performance and the rest are in progress.

Saying that the telecom department is monitoring the telecom service quality on a weekly to 10-day basis with all operators, an official statement from the Department of Telecom on Monday said: “In the entire country, a special audit was done to adjudge their performance.”

“Out of 34,600 cell towers operating poorly, about 16,962 towers have improved and the rest are in progress. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has also been requested to consider recommending incentives and disincentives for operators for call drops.”

It stated that the government has been taking proactive measures to address the issue of call drops from April this year and the telecom secretary took a meeting of all operators, directing them to improve the conditions.

Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is also monitoring the efforts.

“Some important policy decisions have been taken, whereby the Indian government buildings shall be permitted for installation of towers,” the statement said.

It said Prasad has written to the chief ministers to permit tower installation on the state government buildings also, as has been done by the Kerala government.

“Even the Department of Post has been directed to do so in a transparent manner. All these initiatives have been taken in the last three to four months,” it said.

Giving the example of the state of Bihar, the statement said: “In Bihar, in particular, in the 7th phase ofBSNL expansion, 1,150 2G BTS have been planned, out of which 620 BTS have been installed and working. Against 228 3G BTS in Bihar, 120 have been commissioned and become operational.”

Uninor Changes Name to Telenor, Expands Call Drop Refund Plan

Telecom operator Uninor Wednesday changed the brand name to Telenor, the name of its parent company, while extending call drop reimbursement offers to all calls made from its network, in a move to position itself as “the most affordable service provider” in the country.

“The brand change is a reflection of our commitment to India and our mass market consumers as we promise to offer superior value in meeting their evolving needs through affordable, easy to use and fair means. To our 3,500 employees in India, today marks an important name change,” Telenor Group Head of Asia Region Morten Karlsen Sorby said.

It has changed its tagline to ‘Ab life full paisa vasool’ from ‘Sabse Sasta’. Telenor said the company has taken a strong customer-centric approach through initiatives like compensation for call drops.

“We take responsibility for a call drop as we commit quality service to our customers. Hence, we are extending Call drop reimbursements to all calls – local, STD and ISD. Earlier, it was being offered on local calls only,” Telenor India CEO Vivek Sood said.

The Norway-based Telenor entered India through a joint venture with Unitech Wireless, which was branded as Uninor. Unitech has now completely exited from the operations and last year, the Telenor group increased its stake in the Indian entity to 100 per cent.

Earlier this month, the company had changed the name of the company from Telewings Communications Services to Telenor (India) Communications.

The Telenor group has mobile operations in 13 markets in the Nordic region, Central and Eastern Europe and in Asia.

Telenor India operates in six circles – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh East and West and ranks fourth in revenue and customer market share.

“We will continue to offer the most affordable services and deliver innovative solutions like call drop reimbursement and customised product offers. The customer wants us to be fair,” Sood said.

Telcos Oppose Trai Proposal to Compensate Users for Call Drops

Telecom operators have opposed telecom regulator Trai’s proposal to compensate users for call drops even as consumers backed it strongly.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had earlier this month floated a consultation paper seeking public comments on a proposal suggesting service providers should compensate mobile subscribers for call drops and poor quality of services.

This proposal of Trai has so far seen hundreds of individuals commenting through MyGov portal to protect their interest.

Citing the losses incurred to them due to call drops, people demanded that they should get double the cost for each lost call.

“Calls if dropped should not be charged because many times our villagers make call and it get dropped due to a lack of connectivity… they pay money without talking. It comes out to be a harassment,” a consumer commented on the proposal.

Many others complaint about absence of mobile towers around their villages. There are hundreds of comments from people seeking compensation for failure in mobile internet connection as well along with call drops.

Telecom operators, industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and Association of Unified Telcom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) have opposed the proposal to compensate consumers.

“We do not agree that calling consumers should not be charged for a call that got dropped within five second or any time later. The subscriber should be charged for the duration of the call session,” AUSPI Secretary General Ashok Sud said.

AUSPI represents mainly CDMA players like Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communications and Sistema Shyam Teleservices.

COAI, which represents pure play GSM mobile companies like Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Reliance Jio Infocomm, Uninor etc, said, “We are of the view that consumer compensation will not resolve problem of the call drops, since the key factors resulting in the call drops such as non-availability of sites and spectrum constraints will still remain.”