"I am declaring war on roaming", telecom tycoon Sunil Mittal said on Monday as his firm Bharti Airtel removed roaming charges for outgoing and incoming calls as well as SMSes and data usage within India as it takes on competition from new comer 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 Rs 3 per minute and data charges by up to 99 per cent to Rs 3 per MB across popular roaming destinations.
"I am declaring a war on roaming," he said at the World Mobile Congress here.
The 17-18 countries Airtel operates-in will allow its customers to have the freedom to switch on their mobile phones "wherever and whenever they want".
Mittal 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 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 for themselves 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 the GSMA, the trade body for the mobile industry.
Starting April 1, 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 April 1 but will continue to offer free voice and national roaming.
Jio will match the lowest data tariff and add 20 per cent additional data, he announced on February 21 adding customers signing-up before March 31 have the option of continuing existing unlimited services for a year at Rs 99 plus a monthly charge of Rs 303.