Airtel has vehemently defended its premium Platinum offering, saying it was launched with the understanding that the regulator does not have concerns over such a service as no objection had been raised on a similar plan by Vodafone Idea for eight-nine months, according to a document. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is currently probing Vodafone Idea's priority plan RedX and Bharti Airtel's Platinum offering to see if network preference to specific customers leads to deterioration of services for non-premium subscribers or violates norms.
The regulator had shot off questions to the two operators, asking them to explain their position on the controversial issue and provide relevant data to substantiate their claims.
In its presentation to regulator TRAI on August 10, Airtel said, it "launched the Platinum Offering with the bonafide understanding that TRAI does not have any issue or concern with such an offering as - no objection had been raised by TRAI while Vodafone Idea Limited (VIL) had been offering similar plan for last 8-9 months".
Bharti Airtel said that VIL launched RedX plan in November 2019 and that Airtel launched its Platinum plan on July 3, 2020.
Airtel said its offer was in complete compliance to TRAI's norms, and that nowhere did it promise or guarantee any minimum speed as the same is difficult to be ascertained in a wireless network.
PTI has seen a copy of the submission made by Airtel to TRAI.
Airtel did not respond to an e-mail query on the issue.
"Customer communication indicating 'Priority 4G Network' i.e. priority during scheduling on 4G network via network preference, is communicated in an unambiguous and transparent manner. The platinum plans are made available in a totally non-discriminatory manner to all the customers who want to subscribe to these plans," Airtel said in its submission.
No guaranteed speed has been promised to the customer, it added.
Platinum customers will only experience faster speeds in a congested site, Airtel said.
Airtel said its test results show that Platinum customers' experience can be improved without impacting the non-Platinum base. It further said operators often bundle their tariff plans and provide plan-linked benefits with regard to content, devices, and discounts for voice and data.
"...for example, Jio bundles its plans with free Hotstar OTT and also bundles JioPhone device with some of its plans only available on this phone...The offer by Airtel is no different from what was done by Vodafone Idea Limited in November 2019," Airtel said.
Such offers are also a standard norm in banking, airlines, hospitality, and other industries where customers are given a differential treatment for higher spends, Airtel said.
Speed will be a differentiator as India embraces new technologies such as 5G.
"Any bar on offering differentiated services to customers on the basis of speed would...Permanently impair the monetisation of 5G...take away the flexibility of operators to innovate and drive the Indian market," it said.
Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea -- whose priority offering too is under TRAI's lens -- has asserted that "a new tariff plan is not a new service".
In its submission to TRAI, VIL mentioned the financial stress being faced by operators like itself who have "been compelled to reduce prices and go below costs with a double whammy of making continuous investments in the networks to cater to an unprecedented increase in data usage arising out of below costs tariffs."
Vodafone Idea urged the regulator to consider periodic reporting on the service quality and other material provided by the company "to objectively arrive at its query/ conclusions".An e-mail sent to VIL did not elicit a response.