Telecom
Nearly nine lakh Aircel customers across India on Wednesday tried to port their numbers after facing frequent call drops, amidst reports of the company facing financial distress.
Image source: kurumban via Flickr

Aircel, the private telecom operator based in Gurugram, is going through tough times. The company is facing a severe fund crunch and has told its employees to prepare for the worst. Aircel CEO Kaizad Heerjee reportedly wrote an email to employees earlier this week that the company has not received any funding for a while and has been dependent on current business operations. There are also reports that the company is considering filing for bankruptcy with the National Company Law Tribunal.

In the midst of all this, customers have been facing a harrowing time in trying to port their numbers, after facing call drops and network issues.

Here are 5 things to know:

Is Aircel shutting down?

At least not in the near future, the company says.

After several users took to Facebook and Twitter to express their fear of the company shutting down, Aircel clarified on social media that it is not closing its services and that users will be notified in advance of any such eventuality.

A senior official told The Times of India, “The systems are unable to handle the surge. However, we are not going anywhere. It is our responsibility to serve customers till the end. We are devising a way to create manual codes to facilitate the porting process.”

Why are Aircel customers panicking?

Several users across its circles have been facing network issues for the past week. According to a few posts on Facebook and Twitter, a few users in Rajasthan, Kolkata, Chennai, Odisha and Delhi, have not had network on their Aircel numbers for the past few days.

This, along with media reports of the company looking to file for bankruptcy, has caused panic among people, resulting in lakhs of customers trying to port out of the network.

As per some reports, Aircel is facing legal issues with one of the telecom tower companies due to non-payment of dues, because of which the network was cut by the tower company across India causing a network problem and mayhem in the market.

Aircel’s response to its harrowed customers on social media is that ‘there is some technical issue going on at these locations, which will take some time to get rectified’.

Why is everyone trying to port out of Aircel and why are they unable to do so?

Nearly nine lakh Aircel customers across India on Wednesday and almost three lakh customers on Tuesday tried to port their numbers after facing frequent call drops, amidst reports of the company facing financial distress.

Due to the extremely large volume of customer requests to port out, Aircel’s infrastructure came under severe stress and it was not able to handle the increased load. An Aircel official said that it will take time to fulfil all the requests.

Meanwhile, Aircel sent messages individually on Twitter to all its customers who complained of porting: “We regret to inform you that it will take some time to provide better service in that particular area due to the technical issue. So, requesting you to cooperate with us. We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

When did the problems begin?

On January 30, Aircel shut down operations in six circles viz. Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (West). 

The company had then stated that it was finding it difficult to operate in the highly competitive business atmosphere. The entry of Reliance Jio in September 2017 triggered an intense price war which has seen the company struggling with its financials.

Ten days ago, Idea Cellular snapped interconnect services with Aircel due to non-payment of dues to the tune of Rs 60 crore.

What compounded the problem on Sunday was the maintenance work being undertaken.

Why is Aircel looking to file for bankruptcy?

Aircel has been badly affected by the upheaval that the Indian telecom industry has been through, post the entry of Jio. From a quarterly operating profit of Rs 120 crore in July 2016, Aircel slipped to an operating loss of Rs 120 crore by December 2017.

The company, which is facing a financial crisis, is looking at options and is talking to all stakeholders including lenders, to figure out the way ahead.

Its parent company Maxis was considering a cash infusion to support the company but eventually backed out. After failing to recast its debt of Rs 15,500 crore, a Reserve Bank of India circular dubbed Aircel a non-performing asset for banks, due to which the company is now battling a freeze on its bank accounts.