Incumbent GSM operators and new players are at loggerheads over the issue of spectrum re-farming. The Cellular Operators’ Association of India, batting for the older players, has told the Telecom Ministry to refer the entire matter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The COAI said that there was no consultation held on this policy decision and hence the operators should be given a chance to put forth their views. The incumbent players are opposed to re-farming because they currently hold most of the 900 Mhz band, which is superior to 1800 Mhz band.

“The issue of re-farming which is likely to affect the future of telecom networks that are serving hundreds of millions of subscribers, has been dealt with in a most incidental and cavalier manner by the TRAI,” the COAI said in a letter to Communications Minister Kapil Sibal. Earlier, the Planning Commission had also expressed similar views in a letter to the Empowered Group of Ministers. Incumbent players including Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone claim that they will have to cough up nearly Rs 60,000 crore to shift from 900 Mhz to 1800 Mhz

On the other hand, the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India said that TRAI has had detailed consultation with the various stakeholders on spectrum re-farming “It has been established that complete re-farming of 900 MHz band is the need of the hour. It appears that full facts have not been brought to the notice of the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission,” AUSPI said on behalf of new players including Reliance Communication and Tata Teleservices. New players are in favour of re-farming because they want to get a chance to bid for the more efficient 900 Mhz frequency band.

Meanwhile, the TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar met Secretary of DoT to discuss the issue. The DoT had asked TRAI to give its views on whether incumbent operators should be allowed to retain any part of spectrum at the time of re-farming and licence renewal at the end of the 20-year licence period.

Thomas.thomas@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 30, 2012)
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