How Vodafone Idea is offering higher speeds to premium subscribers

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on August 12, 2020

The ongoing dispute between Vodafone Idea and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has thrown up a key question: Can operators offer higher speeds to a specific set of high-paying subscribers without compromising on the quality of service offered to other users?

Disclosures made by Vodafone Idea reveal that this in fact is possible. The telco is deploying a mechanism called Quality of Service Class Identifier (QCI) that allows it prioritise data packets for specific users. In a 4G network, each type of service being offered to consumers has its own benchmarks to maintain quality of service. All bits are not really created equal. The quality-of-service requirements for Web pages and email are not the same as for voice and video.

For example, the quality of service parameters for a voice call is different from that of a gaming application. Service levels are specified in terms of throughput, latency (delay), jitter (delay variation) and packet errors or loss. In order to maintain the required service levels, 4G networks assign a QCI code to each type of service, ranging 1 to 9. For example, conversational voice is assigned a QCI code 1 and buffered video streaming applications are assigned QCI 6. This allows the network to prioritise data packets and, at the same time, meet quality of service norms.

Proritisation feature

In the case of Vodafone Idea, the non-premium plan customer is tagged with QCI 8. The subscribers on its premium plan, REDX, are tagged with QCI 6.

REDX and non-REDX customers have common resources and the same traffic treatment in transport, core, signaling, and VoLTe (Voice). Both are non-GBR (non-guaranteed bit rate), which means there is no guarantee on speed for both users. However, the scheduling weight in QCI 6 is higher than the scheduling weight for QCI 8, which essentially allows the operator to offer higher speed to the premium users. At the customer level, the average speeds experienced by the REDX customer is at least 1.5 times that of the non-REDX customer, as per Vodafone Idea’s submission to TRAI.

However, there is no impact on non-REDX customers due to the REDX priority feature. Vodafone Idea has reported that the overall speeds have increased for all subscribers.

Legality question

But is this legal? According to the TRAI, QCI can be used for providing emergency services so that data traffic can be given priority in these limited cases. For example, in flood-hit areas, communication between first responders has to be given priority to ride over congested networks. TRAI has asked Vodafone Idea if QCI can be used for commercial service as well.

The operator, in its submission to the regulator, has stated that the QCI mechanism should be used for emergency situations but its use is not limited to that. As per 3GPP standards, QCI is neither defined as a mandate nor as an exclusive purpose. It gives the option to the network to use the mechanism for any prioritisation of subscribers, according to Vodafone Idea.

“TRAI has itself recognised that minimum download speed for each pan is to be measured. Thus, different speeds are recognised to be given to different class of subscribers by TRAI itself,” Vodafone Idea said.

The ball is now in TRAI’s court to prove that the deployment of the QCI mechanism violates existing regulations.

Published on August 12, 2020

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