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The telecom sector had been functioning as a typical government department right from its inception. With the Department of Telephones (DoT) being under the exclusive control of the Ministry of Communications, Government of India (GO!), the system functioned more as a monopoly. With the advent of the LPG process (liberalization, privatization and globalization) in the early nineties, the telecom department went through a phase of modernization. A number of new and sophisticated electronic exchanges were installed which enhanced the capacity and lead to the disappearance of waiting list for telephone connections. In a landmark decision in 1995-96, the Government of India threw open its gates for private players in the area of cellular services. LCG and ACG were the two major players to enter this area in Karnataka region, while DoT decided to remain as an observer and continued as a provider of basic services only. Subsequently the Internet, ISD and other services were also opened to private participation.

The year 1998 saw the entry of Vikas Telenet (VTNL) as a basic service provider in the state of Karnataka. It launched its basic services in Bangalore district, the commercial capital of the state, in January 1998. The impact of this entry was felt by DoT as it resulted in a mass customer churning, challenging the market leadership of DoT in basic services. This growing challenge from VTNL made General Manager DoT Indore, R.L. Rawat realized the need for a comprehensive review of the competitive scenario. The situation faced by the Bangalore district was one of its kind. It was the only city where four companies were providing telephone services. LCG and ACG were providing cellular services while VTNL and DoT were providing basic services. To attract the customers all the providers had attractive tariff plans. DoT\’s market share was not affected by the entry of LCG and ACG as – they operated only as cellular service providers and their services carried a premium price. But the entry of VTNL as a basic service provider with attractive tariff plans showed a marked shift in customer base from DoT to VTNL specially in case of heavy users make it necessary for DoT to come up with similar competitive tariff plans.

General Manager Operations DoT Bangalore, S.N. Dutt, felt that improved services, customer care and proper pricing would help in winning back the heavy users who accounted for almost 60 to 65% of the total revenue. Keeping this in mind, a review of VTNL\’s tariff plans was done (Annexure I). The review revealed that the customers were getting a distinct price advantage in the rentals and free calls given by VTNL.

Along with this, a discount ranging from 2.5 to 16% was also announced by VTNL. S.N. Dutt formulated a comprehensive plan to guard DoT\’s market share. Officers were appointed as account holders and were responsible for rendering personalized customer care to commercially important customers hoping to retain them with better services. He also formulated a proposal of discounts which was forwarded to the Circle Head Office (Annexure-II) and a presentation was made by DGM – Marketing K.K. Sen, highlighting the rate at which customer churning was taking place and the need for implementation of new tariff plan. He pleaded with the senior officers that DoT needed to be at least reactive if not proactive, to sustain itself in the market. The proposal was well received and forwarded to the Ministry of Communications for approval. Responding to the need of the hour, the Ministry decided to offer a comprehensive discount of 2.5 to 16% for its heavy users. The scheme was introduced in Bangalore, which was extended first to the state of Karnataka and later on to the entire nation.

VTNL, which had so far been concentrating only on the heavy users, decided to now expand its network to get a wider customer base. With this view in mind, a number of promotional schemes were introduced e.g., web phone, a facility for internet usage where access to the net was provided at a cost of 60 paise per call only. It also announced free Internet facility for a year on every new connection. Besides this, VTNL went in for heavy promotion of its schemes. The careful wording of the schemes and enhancement of the number of free calls made the customers feel that they were gainers as far as rentals were concerned. These schemes when launched created very difficult times for VTNL during May -August 2001. By then, DoT had been Corporatised (October 1, 2000) and came to be known as VSNL. The Bangalore office was extremely hopeful that the corporatisation would facilitate. The implementation of new innovative schemes. For drafting a proposal of innovative schemes, VSNL first conducted a market research where in -the database of surrendered connections was used as sample and effort were made to identify the cause of disconnections. The survey revealed that of the total number of disconnections 30% were due to economic recession while 40% were due to customer turning in favor of VTNL while the remaining were due to a multitude of factors interplaying with one another.

To redeem the situation, VSNL, Bangalore prepared an innovative plan known as Business Special Plan – Plan 600-800, which offered 800 free calls on a monthly rental of Rs.600 only. The plan was put forward to Chief General Manager at Bangalore for approval. The persistent efforts of K.K. Sen bore fruits and the proposal was approved at the Circle level.

However, at the time of launch K. K. Sen realized that they needed TRAI\’s (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) approval for going ahead. To ensure the unhindered approval of TRAI, modified tariff plans called 500-700 and an economy plan were suggested and sent for approval. While formulating these plans, an attempt was made to segment the market with an intention to target each segment with a customized/specific set of services. Plan 500-700 was targeted at high end users. Here, 700 calls were offered free on a monthly rental of Rs. 500 only. The economy plan carried a rental of just Rs.160 per month with a rate of Rs.l.20 per call. This plan was specially targeted at customers who had more of incoming calls and needed a facility for meeting their specific requirements. The rolling out of these schemes had an immediate impact with nearly 8,000 customers coming over to VSNL Bangalore. Along with these new tariff proposals a number of innovative strategies were introduced by VSNL, Bangalore.

  • The initial registration amount was reduced and new subscribers were offered the facility of paying the amount in installments.
  • Call centre functioning since February 2001 to deal with customer grievances was made proactive to ensure better customer care.
  • Training was given to the front-end-people for updating their skills and changing the mindsets.
  • Tele-shopping service was started which provided a one stop shopping facility, giving the customers the option to choose their telephone numbers, instrument and service.. Installation was assured within 48 hours.
  • Phone-on-Phone facility was started wherein customers could obtain a connection installed by simply ringing up for it.
  • A bill collecting facility was also introduced to further assist the customers.
  • VCC Le., prepaid cards were introduced and even delivered at the doorsteps of the customers.
  • Bill collection in the rural areas by mobile vans was introduced.
  • Linemen were given pagers to facilitate prompt servicing of faulty telephone lines.
  • Regular meetings between call centre members and maintenance staff were held to exchange information and solve grievances.
  • For motivating and facilitating their employees, free telephone service was provided to all the employees.
  • An advertising budget of Rs.30,00,000 (0.2% of the total sales revenue) was outlined for launching a comprehensive promotion programme using both indoor and outdoor media ensuring a good coverage of the market.

VSNL – Tariff Structure

Scheme Rental (Rs.) Free Colis Facilities
Business Plan – 500-700* 500 (Monthly) 700 Without STD
Economy Plan ** 160 (Monthly) Nil With STD
Standard Plan* 500 (Bimonthly) 150 With STD
* 0.80 Per Call ** Rs.1 .20 Per Call

VTNL – Tariff Structure

Scheme Rental (Rs.) Free Calls
Silver 300 349 (Monthly) 300
Golden – 500 499 (Monthly) 500


  1. What were the strengths and weaknesses of VSNL?
  2. Do you think that VSNL should have changed its thrust from basic telephony to cellular services?
  3. If you were the Deputy General Manager, what strategies would you have undertaken to deal with the competition?


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