Telcos are citing free voice calls to duck action on poor quality of service, but that will not pass regulatory muster, Trai Chairman R S Sharma said on Sunday, assuring users that the issue of call drops remains on its agenda.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) head said the watchdog's earlier provision for a penalty on telcom firms for call drops was successfully challenged in the Supreme Court, but the regulator will continue to work for improving the quality of service.

"Most of the telcos are offering voice free, their argument is that if something is free, how much can you (Trai) punish me because I am not getting anything for that, which may not be correct because they are essentially cross-subsidising," Sharma said at the Asia Economic Dialogue here.

The comments come amid continuing call drops being experienced by subscribers across the country.

After the entry of Reliance Jio in 2016, voice calling has become virtually free as it is getting embedded in the data plans. This has resulted in entrenched operators losing their biggest revenue stream, which has led to financial troubles.

Sharma acknowledged the problem of call drops and added that "hopefully" the service quality will get better over time.

Trai officials conduct standard tests on roads, trains and other busy spots and any operator found to be giving poor service is punished, he said.

Speaking at the conference co-organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Pune International Centre, he also urged citizens to come forward by allowing erection of telecom tower infrastructure, adding that there are no health hazards because of the same.

He also pitched for last-mile telecom infrastructure to be erected to ensure people get faster connectivity in their apartments in high-rises.

In his speech, Sharma also mentioned that the lowest tariffs in the world might be the reason why telecom companies are having a tough time in the country at present, but did not elaborate.

On the upcoming 5G technology, Sharma said it requires investment in infrastructure building and marked out optical fibre cable (OFC) laying as a crucial task, stating that there is a heavy dependence on wireless data transfer in India and there is a need for wired access as well.

He said there are sufficient number of use cases and applications of 5G which are available.

Sharma, who has also been associated with the Aadhaar project, said he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to adopt a "digital diplomacy" strategy, wherein New Delhi extends its know-how on projects like the biometric ID or payment systems to countries in Africa and Asia.

Speaking at the same event, National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) Chief Executive Dilip Asbe said a trial run of its Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is set to be carried out at a Singapore merchant on Sunday, which will herald the internationalisation of the domestic payments system.

He said a code will be scanned by a BHIM app to pay at the merchant's end in Singapore and the transaction settled.

Asbe also said the NPCI has been generating sufficient revenues to sustain its developmental activities.

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