TDSAT orders TRAI to re-assess Jio freebies

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

The Indian telecoms regulator had approved Jio's move to extend its free call and data offer, leading to appeals from Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular

Reliance Jio’s freebie offer is set to be re-examined after the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) ordered TRAI to reassess its previous approval of the deal.

TDSAT ordered the Telecom Regulator Authority of India to re-evaluate its decision to allow Jio’s Happy New Year offer to continue beyond the agreed 90 days, following challenges from rivals Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular.

The Happy New Year deal gives customers free voice and data services, and was set to end on 31 March, when Jio is due to start charging customers. At the end of January, TRAI backed Jio, leading Airtel to label the regulator as a “mute spectator”.

TDSAT has now ordered the regulator to re-examine issues related to approving the continuation of Jio’s offer, according to reports in India. TDSAT in its order asked Trai to apprise it of the "outcome and findings of the examination" within two weeks.

Jio’s initial voice and data plan was launched in September 2016 when the mobile operator took its services live, but was due to expire in December. However, Jio launched what it claimed was an alternative offer, the Happy New Year bundle, to run until the end of this month.

The free offers have greatly disrupted the Indian market, leading rivals Airtel, Idea, and Vodafone to shake-up their own offers.

Airtel responded by announcing a new package that includes unlimited voice calls and additional 4G data for prepaid customers. Subscribers on the Rs 345 ($5.12) recharge plan will be able to make unlimited calls to any network, and get 1GB of 4G data for 28 days, while those on the Rs 145 ($2.15) plan will get 300MB of data and unlimited calls.

Vodafone has also responded to Reliance offer by doubling the amount of 4G data for customers on plans above Rs 255 ($3.78).

Both are now looking at potential mergers and acquisition activity. Airtel has agreed a deal to buy Telenor’s Indian unit, while Vodafone and Idea are locked in talks over a potential merger.

Meanwhile the freebie offer has helped Jio establish a customer base of more than 72.4 million subscribers in the first four months after it launched services.