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Aircel-Airtel SMS dispute leaves users fuming

Karthik Subramanian
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Text channel between networks broke down earlier this month; Aircel has taken issue to apex court

An ongoing dispute between mobile service providers Airtel and Aircel on the settlement of an inter-connection agreement over SMS services has left millions of users in the lurch.

The SMS channel between the two companies broke down just before Deepavali, and the blockade is likely to continue for some time, with Aircel having taken the issue to the Supreme Court.

Consumers confused

Scores of users, unaware that the inter-connectivity between the two networks has broken down, are confused: specifically Airtel users who are not able to text or reply to messages from Aircel users. Some of them have even taken their mobile phones to service centres to get them checked.

“Mobile networks often bombard us with promotional messages,” says N. Arjun, a college student. “So why did they not inform us by text message that there was a problem of inter-connectivity,” he asks.

Small businesses that depended on text messaging as a primary means of communication between clients and service providers have been most hit. “No wonder my clients could not reach me over the past few days,” Narayanan Hariharan, an entrepreneur said.

Another heavy SMS user R. Sathyanarayanan, a professor with a management institute here, asked: “I have been struggling to understand the ‘message not sent’ alerts on my phone. Why could the service provider not inform us that there have been some restrictions on usage?”

The scenario has also led to some of the younger users conversant with instant messaging services on data networks, to opt for services like WhatsApp and Viber as the de-facto messaging service on their smartphones.

Long-standing dispute

The dispute between Airtel and Aircel is a long-standing one. Aircel had filed a petition with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) in New Delhi last year over Airtel raising a bill of approximately Rs. 25 crore towards inter-connection usage charges for the period April to October 2011, at the rate of 10 paise per SMS terminating in its network.

Aircel contested the fee demanded by Airtel as too high and said it was untenable to pass on such a huge burden to its users. On Monday, both companies responded in very brief statements, as the issue is sub-judice.

An Airtel spokesperson said: “Airtel continues to be in compliance with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulations as well as TDSAT judgements on the issue of SMS interconnection between operators. The TDSAT judgement has inter-alia specified execution of interconnection agreement for SMS services by Aircel with Airtel, which is pending till date with Aircel. Consequently, SMS services have been impacted.”

An Aircel spokesperson responded: “Bharti Airtel was the first to block SMSes between the two companies – Aircel and Airtel. This started on November 9, 2012. In these circumstances, if an SMS is accepted but is not delivered to an Aircel customer, the responsibility lies with the sender operator, in this case ‘Airtel’, and Aircel is in no way responsible for customer inconvenience or the customer being charged for the message not going through to its recipient. The case against Airtel is pending in Supreme Court and since it is sub-judice we will be unable to comment any further on this topic till the court hearing is over.”


  • Aircel contests Airtel’s Rs. 25 crore inter-connection fee

  • Blockade likely to continue for some time; users in lurch


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