Airtel's Mittal declares war on roaming charges – globally

"I am declaring war on roaming," telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal said in Barcelona on Monday as his firm Bharti Airtel removed roaming charges for outgoing and incoming calls as well as messaging and data usage within India as it takes on competition from newcomer Reliance Jio.

India's largest mobile phone service provider also said there will be no roaming data changes while international call charges will be cut by up to 90 per cent to as low as Rs3 per minute and data charges by up to 99 per cent to Rs3 per MB across popular roaming destinations.

 In the 17-18 countries in which it operates, Airtel will allow its customers to have the freedom to switch on their mobile phones "wherever and whenever they want", Mittal said at the World Mobile Congress.

He said "90 per cent of people turn off their data when they travel", including himself, and wait until they can find Wi-Fi in their hotel or buy local prepaid SIM cards to avoid stiff charges.

"We have a global network, but very few people are allowed to enjoy it," he said, adding that "it (exorbitant fees) is a disaster our industry has created."

Despite a vast network "55 per cent of our people in the developed world switch off their mobile data. It is my estimated guess that 90 per cent of travellers from emerging markets switch off their mobile data. They go for local SIM cards, they go for the nearest Wi-Fi spot, they wait to get to their hotel. What have we done to our industry? This must stop," he said.

The industry needs to address this as well as the disdain its customers have for operators, he said.

"I can promise you that during my term at GMSA, roaming charges and bill shocks will be a thing of the past. I promise you that," said Mittal, who is also the chairman of GSMA, the global trade body for the mobile industry.

Starting 1 April, Airtel customers roaming within India will enjoy free incoming calls and SMS and there will be no premium on outgoing calls, allowing them to speak freely wherever they are within the country.

Also, there will be no additional data charges on national roaming. Home data packs for customers will apply even while they roam across India.

The moves follows within days of billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio charging for its services from 1 April though it will continue to offer free voice and national roaming.