Let’s face it, everyone’s dialed a wrong number some time or the other. But sometimes you’re calling a number directly from your mobile address book, and there’s really no room for error, but the person who picks up has no idea who you are or where you got their number from. Congratulations, you’ve just been cross connected, a bizarre experience that leaves anyone it happens to perplexed and completely bewildered.
Why does this happen? Usually it’s because the network is overburdened, or the user has a weak signal that has been overwhelmed but that of a high traffic cell. For example, Bharti Airtel in India suffered from this problem a few years ago when they introduced a free unlimited plan between two Airtel numbers, resulting in serious communication issues. This has since been dealt with, but an inordinate amount of cross connections continues to occur.
Wherever telecommunications is the domain of big business and not the government, the companies and their regulatory bodies rarely see eye to eye. The telecommunications giants are of the opinion that there isn’t enough spectrum, and neither are they enough cellsites. Meanwhile, the regulatory bodies say that telecommunications companies are not investing enough in their networks to actually make them function properly. In all the controversy, name calling and general lack of accountability, it is the consumer who suffers, and is placed in the unenviable situation of paying for a service but not really getting what they are paying for (especially when the ‘telecos’ make extravagant promises and churn out frustratingly inaccurate commercials).
In the midst of all this drama, it’s no wonder that people are wondering why telecommunications companies wield this much power. Should they be in a situation where they are accepting high fees (after all, buying ‘expensive’ spectrum is such a financial burden) but are still not providing the quality of service that they are promising? Shouldn’t regulatory bodies, then, do a better job of actually regulating them, and protect the interests of the average mobile user? And is spectrum licensing actually helping the problem, or making it worse?
Let’s look at it this way. Radio is a public good. You don’t pay to listen to it, and it’s your choice whether you listen to it or not. All you need to access it is a device, which, yes, you have to pay for. But that’s it. Radio waves, incidentally, are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum, just like the ones that we use to communicate with each other via mobile phones. Why, then, is one part of the spectrum a public good, while we’re paying through the nose for another part of it, and still not getting what we’re paying for. Maybe the situation would be a lot better if users had access to an unlicensed spectrum, one that they could access using a device that they have bought and paid for (the mobile phone), without being in the power of network providers that are basically exploiting them.