34 lakh mobile subscribers in lurch: Is Aircel going Tata Tele way in J&K?

Frequent shutdowns, erratic service of cash-starved telco casting doubt on its future in state

About 34 lakh mobile subscribers of telecom service provider Aircel in Jammu and Kashmir are facing huge inconvenience as both calling and data services of this telco across Jammu and Kashmir are witnessing intermittent shutdowns since Wednesday. 

Shutdowns of the services by Aircel, which is facing financial crisis, has been reported across India at different places, including at some key markets like Chennai as well. As Aircel has failed to clear dues of other operators and tower companies, they have suspending services to Aircel, resulting in shutdowns.

While a large number of customers say that the Aircel services are completely down but few say that it is working on and off. According to a telecom engineer, who is working for the company in south Kashmir, the service is down at the majority of places were the third party is involved. However, at some places, were Aircel has its own towers, the services may be running. But he added that such places are very few where the company has its setup. 

Even as media reports suggested that Aircel would declare itself bankrupt soon, desperate subscribers from various districts across Kashmir beelined outside offices of the beleaguered telecom company to know the fate of their mobile connections. “This reminds me of the way Tata Docomo wound up its operations in the Valley few years back. I visited the Baghat office of Aircel today, to know about the fate of my number. I was told it would remain shut for next two days,” said Asif  Aziz, an Aircel subscriber.  

Aircel has a sizable market share in J&K and holds the position of the second leading service provider in term of subscriber base after Airtel in the state. The subscription figures released by telecom regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ( TRAI), as of December 31, 2017 indicate that Aircel had more than 34 lakh (34,22,896) subscribers across J&K. “I had opted for Aircel service at the time of 2014 floods when it was the only private cellular operator whose network was operational. During those tough times this company made use of some excellent technology but has let us down now by not even informing about suspension of its operations,” said Basit Ahmad Ganie, a subscriber from Hyderpora.

Aircel launched its operations in Jammu and Kashmir 12 years back and achieved the first milestone in 2012 when the telco crossed a subscriber base of 20 lakhs. While Aircel did not make any official communication with regard to existing problems in its network, several calls made to Aircel representatives did not elicit any response.  

A huge rush of Aircel subscribers keen on switching to other mobile networks with help of Mobile Number Portability (MNP) have been unable to do so as the port requests are running in lakhs, said a telecom expert. A highly placed source in the telecom industry said that a provision is being made so that affected subscribers are soon able to port their number to any other service provider. “Aircel subscribers would soon be able to manually select networks of other service providers to generate Unique Porting Code (UPC) which is a must for porting to any other operator which they are not ready to generate as of now,”a source said.  

Speaking with Greater Kashmir from New-Delhi, Rajan S Matthews, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India (an umbrella body of GSM players) admitted that Aircel is facing teething financial problems. Matthews said failure of Aircel to clear dues with other operators and tower companies has resulted in these telcos suspending services to Aircel.

“Aircel is running financial trouble and have decided to reduce operations. The erractic service is because some tower operating companies and mobile service operators have disconnected the “interconnect” as Aircel has not cleared their dues. That is why some customers are able to make calls while others are having a problem in getting through to mobile connections of other service providers,” Matthews said. 

He said subscribers and consumer forums should approach TRAI so that affected subscribers are informed of a way-out.