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Airtel continues mud-slinging but shows little fighting spirit

Location India. Red pin on the map.

Bharti Airtel has accused Reliance Jio of directly ignoring an order from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), and continuing its ‘Summer Surprise’ discounts for customers.

Only a couple of days after Jio announced it was extending its free services offer, albeit under a different name, TRAI finally said enough is enough, forcing Jio to actually start charging its customers. Although free services were a welcome break for the general population in India, the established players in the telco market cried foul play, leaning on competition and market sustainability arguments to end the Jio rampage.

Jio has confirmed it has heard and understand the ruling, and is in the process of withdrawing the offer as soon as “operationally feasible”, but this doesn’t would not appear to be fast enough for moody Bharti Airtel, who has thrown yet another temper tantrum.

“We are surprised that Reliance Jio is openly continuing with its Summer Special offer despite the same being declared ab initio void by the TRAI,” said a Bharti Airtel spokesperson to the Economic Times.

“In addition, Reliance Jio is running an aggressive campaign via social media and on ground as well as digital flyers encouraging customers and channel partners to subscribe and recharge under the scheme.”

While Jio appears happy to temporarily forgo profits in an effort to establish a solid foundation in the Indian market, it would seem Bharti Airtel has lost patience with the situation. After six months of absorbing blow after blow, losing customer after customer and watching profits erode as the market leader attempted to stand tall against the young upstart, it doesn’t seem to have the desire anymore.

Perhaps the battle has gotten the better of the market incumbent, however it is doing its best class snitch impression, taddling on Jio for not withdrawing the offer from the market quick enough. And it has done do it possibly the most pompous and brown-nosing fashion.

“This is a flagrant violation of TRAI’s unambiguous directive and it is clear the extension is invalid for all customers who have recharged after the regulatory order came into effect. We are sure the honourable regulator will take suitable action against this violation.”

Although Jio is no longer able to offer the ‘Summer Surprise’ deal, you could argue this is somewhat of a moral victory for the team. Bharti Airtel and co. attempted to compete with the newcomer on increased data tariffs but don’t appear to have the same levels of stamina. Perhaps its pressure from investors, or a lack of innovative staff at the incumbents, but Jio does look to have the upper hand.

The mud-slinging from both sides is starting to get a bit tedious in the same way the ‘Make the Air Fair’ and ‘Fix Britain’s Broadband’ campaigns got boring a few months back in the UK, but it’s a story which isn’t unfamiliar throughout the world.

Here you have a market incumbent, who has been challenged by a newbie who has a few novel ideas to challenge the status quo. Bharti Airtel has had pretty solid brand credentials to date, finding a comfortable position in the market, and seemingly doesn’t like the idea of having to do things differently. The innovation challenge was put forward, and the market leader doesn’t want to get involved toe-to-toe; maybe as it has realised this is a fight it can’t win.

TRAI may have given its apparent favourite child a slap on the wrist, but it would be a smart bet the Jio executives are thinking up something else.


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