TRAI’s push to make mobile banking services via USSD free faces stiff opposition from Airtel, Vodafone Idea

TRAI’s push to make mobile banking services via USSD free faces stiff opposition from Airtel, Vodafone Idea
TRAI wants to make mobile banking via USSD freeUnsplash
  • India’s telecom regulator wants to make mobile banking services via USSD free.
  • It is however facing opposition from two of India’s leading telecom players, Airtel and Vodafone Idea.
  • While Airtel wants to be compensated if the charges are reduced to zero, Vodafone Idea stated that the costs would be substantial.
Airtel and Vodafone Idea, India’s two leading telecom players, do not want feature phone users to use mobile banking services via USSD for free.

The telcos reportedly revealed this in response to a proposal by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to reduce USSD charges for mobile banking to zero. Currently, this costs ₹0.50 per session, down from the initial charges of ₹1.50 per session.

USSD is short form for unstructured supplementary service data. Mobile banking services through USSD can be accessed using the *99# short code.

Users can retrieve their mobile balance, mini statement, generate one-time passwords for banking services, and transfer funds via this service.

Announcing its proposal, TRAI said, “The Authority proposes to revise the framework for USSD-based mobile banking and payment services by prescribing a “nil” charge per session as rationalisation is a necessity to protect interests of target user groups and promote digital financial inclusion.”


In response to this, Airtel said it should be suitably compensated by the concerned stakeholders – likely the government and banks – if the charges are reduced to zero, according to a report by ET Telecom.

Vodafone Idea was quoted as saying that the “costs per unit would be substantial” if the volumes of USSD mobile banking transactions are concerned.

Business Insider India has reached out to both Airtel and Vodafone Idea for further comments. We will update the story if and when we receive a response.

What is USSD and why is it important for Indian users?

USSD is a feature that allows users without smartphones to access services like peer-to-peer payments, checking bank account balances and other banking services, without the need for a smartphone or mobile internet services.

Essentially, access to banking services via USSD benefits feature phone users the most – there are over 350 million feature phone users in India, according to an IDC report.

Apart from this, the Reserve Bank of India announced last week that it will soon expand the availability of the ubiquitous Unified Payments Interface (UPI) service to feature phones as well, allowing hundreds of millions of users to make quick payments without smartphones.


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