Geared to take on private operators

Print edition : July 18, 2003

RAJEEV BHATT

Interview with K.H. Khan, Executive Director, MTNL-Delhi.

Having crossed many milestones of progress in the past, the Delhi unit of Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL-Delhi) is today bracing itself to meet competition from private operators who have entered the telecommunications sector in a big way in the wake of the government's policy of economic liberalisation. K.H. Khan, Executive Director, MTNL-Delhi, in an interview to B.S. Padmanabhan, sums up the performance of the major public sector enterprise and explains its strategy to retain existing customers and also corner a greater share of the market by offering additional facilities and introducing a range of new services. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the performance of MTNL-Delhi during 2002-03?

MTNL-Delhi is providing a host of services. These include land line telephones (PSTN), the cellular mobile service (Dolphin), the WLL (Wireless in Local Loop) Garuda-1x, the Internet service (pre-paid and post-paid), I-Net, leased line service, integrated subscriber digital network (ISDN), the just call `1500' service and Internet telephony (VOIP) Bol-Anmol. The performance during 2002-03 has been excellent, as can be seen from the achievements with regard to important parameters. For instance, during the year, 59 exchanges were commissioned, adding 2,91,798 lines to the exchange capacity. As many as 90,051 DELs (direct exchange lines) were provided, of which WLL mobile accounted for 937. The number of pay phones installed totalled 19,230, of which 7,555 were for STD (subscriber trunk dialling) and ISD (international subscriber dialling), while the remaining 11,675 were for local calls. The ISDN connections numbered 1,598 comprising 1,577 BRA (basic rated access) and 21 PRA (primary rated access). As many as 1,56,314 Internet connections were provided, 1,012 leased lines were added and 1,100 km of optical fibre cable (OFC) was laid. There has been no waiting list during the year. By taking steps such as the rehabilitation of outdoor plants, installation of more DLCs (digital loop carriers) and Cordect and replacement of paper-core underground cable with OFC, the fault rate was reduced to 18.71 in 2002-03 as compared to 25.47 during 2000-01.

What is the strategy adopted to face competition from private operators?

In order to streamline the operation of the organisation, the post of Chief General Manager (CGM) has been upgraded to that of Executive Director. Two CGMs are working under him to monitor services efficiently. Posts of General Manager (Sales) and General Manager (CIP) have been created to pay more attention to customer retention. Registration for new telephone connections has been made free. Telephone connections are now available on demand in all of Delhi. Intelligent Network public call offices are being installed at different locations. PCOs are being installed in hospitals free of cost. Bill payment has been made easy. Now payment can be made through several means. It could be done through the electronic clearing service (ECS). Credit cards could be used. Automated teller machines (ATMs) could be used. Banks, petroleum outlets and mobile vans are other means. Bills could also be paid over the Internet. The voluntary deposit scheme (VDS) is also available.

We are paying special attention to CIPs, or commercially important persons, among our customers. A few officers have been designated business managers in order to look after exclusively their problems and needs. CIPs can book complaints on telephone number 178 to receive priority attention.

You have launched a range of new services. What is the level of response to these from customers?

The Bol-Anmol service has evoked a tremendous response. Cards worth Rs.14 lakhs were sold between July 2002 and March 2003. More than two lakh subscribers are availing themselves of the express Internet (CLIP-based) service. The extended cordless system (PAS) has 1,100 subscribers. As regards payment of bills through ATMs, at present the contract is with IDBI Bank and the response is picking up. Similar tie-ups with Citibank and Corporation Bank are on the anvil. As many as 1,940 subscribers are availing of this facility and the average collection per month is Rs. 19.5 lakhs.

The Garuda-1x service was commissioned recently. The answering machine service is being utilised by 1,42,727 subscribers. MTNL-Delhi has set up a bill view and payment portal and 3,008 subscribers have registered themselves and 629 subscribers have been activated. The number of customers is increasing by the day. All Dolphin and Trump card subscribers are availing of the SMS-based (short messaging service-based) directory inquiry service. This facility covers the name and address of the subscriber, changes from an old number to a new number and billing enquiry facilities. Under the "just call 1500'' service, all subscribers in Delhi can enquire about commercial facilities and file billing complaints.

Subscribers can book for telephone connections and make requests for facilities and services such as shifting of telephone, provision of phone-plus facilities and so on through this service. As many as 25 multi-function kiosks are being converted into information kiosks. Around 29,823 subscribers are availing themselves of the facility of landline SMS and e-mail service.

Which are the services you are relatively in a stronger position than your competitors?

We are in a very strong position as far as landlines are concerned. We have been providing services in Delhi for more than 50 years. Our exchanges and cable network are situated throughout the city and we are in a position to provide service on demand in every nook and corner of Delhi. Even the rural areas surrounding Delhi have been provided state-of-the-art services on a par with urban subscribers, which no private operator can even think of. We have our customer service centres and Sanchaar Haats in all areas, where the customer can avail himself of the various facilities and get his grievances redressed. Our express Internet service has got an overwhelming response.

Do you have a perspective plan to cater to the emerging demand in various segments of the telecom sector?

Yes. We have drawn up a plan to meet the projected increase in demand for telecommunications. During 2003-04 we have set a target of installing 30 new exchanges (both main and remote switching units, or RSUs) and adding 1,00,000 lines of local switching capacity. We have already commissioned during the current year the targeted 1,00,000 lines under WLL. The target for DLCs is 100. We have already decommissioned 1,61,000 lines of E-10B exchanges. We propose to decommission 1,43,000 lines in 2003-04, 1,37,800 lines in 2004-05, 1,03,000 lines in 2005-06 and 87,000 lines in 2006-07. We have replaced 20.17 lakh conductor kilometres (lckm) of paper-core underground cable with OFC and propose to replace the remaining part in phases over the next three years - 11 lckm in 2003-04, 8.58 lckm in 2004-05 and 8.58 lckm in 2005-06.

How are you strengthening your technological base in order to sustain your hold on the market and expand in the future?

Since its inception in1986, MTNL-Delhi has replaced 1,20,000 electro-mechanical lines, 158 analog electronic exchanges, 8,000 SPC analog TAX, 17,000 E-10B TAX and 1,61,300 lines of old digital E-10B local exchanges up to March 2003 with new-technology exchanges. The inter-exchange network, which was earlier working on copper cable, has been replaced with an OFC network. New technology access networks, such as Cordect, WLL and PAS, have been introduced in the local networks in order to provide more reliable service. To reduce the long copper cable loop of subscribers, more RSUs, DLCs and so on have been installed. As on March 31, 2003, 20.17 lckm of paper-core copper cable has been replaced with OFC. The remaining 28.17 lckm will be replaced in a phased manner by the end of 2005-06. We are providing broadband services by deploying ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber line). At present, MTNL-Delhi is 100 per cent digitised.

What steps are being taken to improve customer satisfaction?

A number of customer-friendly steps have been introduced. For instance, the criteria for allotment of PCOs have been simplified and now PCOs are available on demand. The refund of security deposit has been made easy. Now the subscriber is not required to deposit the instrument and the directory if the connection has worked for three years or more. The application forms for booking new connections have been simplified. In respect of cases of disconnection for non-payment, there is now no need to make note of the details of payments made to get the connection restored. The restoration is automatic once payment is made. The payment of bills has been made easy, as mentioned earlier.

In order to provide efficient services to the satisfaction of customers, customer service centres (CSCs) have been set up in all areas. As many as 49 CSCs and 44 Sanchar Haats are functioning. To provide more transparency in matters related to customer satisfaction and to implement the directions of the High Court of Delhi, telephone Lok Adalats are being conducted. These are presided over by a sitting District Judge who is assisted by a member of the engineering branch of MTNL of the rank of General Manager. In addition to such Adalats, "open house" sessions are held to obtain first-hand information about customers' problems and suggestions regarding telephone services and allied matters. Public grievance cells are functioning at the headquarters and at the area level.

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