Mobile operators, including Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, could soon get access to more 3G spectrum that will enable them offer data services across the country. The Department of Telecom has proposed a swap formula, whereby the Defence forces have been asked to vacate 15 MHz spectrum in the 3G band in exchange for the same amount of spectrum in another frequency band.

The swap, if agreed to by the Defence Ministry, could resolve the controversy around 3G roaming, as telecom companies will be able to buy more spectrum and get a pan-India footprint.

Operators with 3G spectrum, such as Airtel and Idea, had got into a roaming deal with one another to offer high-speed data services across the country as they individually did not have spectrum in all the circles. That’s because in 2010 when 3G spectrum was auctioned only 20 MHz was put on the block in each circle.

Of this, one slot of 5 MHz was given away to state-run telecom companies BSNL and MTNL. The balance 15 MHz was won by seven different operators in such a way that none of them got a pan-India footprint.

This meant that an operator, say, Airtel, had to ride on Idea Cellular’s 3G spectrum in Madhya Pradesh. This roaming arrangement has, however, been termed illegal by the DoT, leaving the operators at a disadvantage when seen from the context of the impending launch of 4G services by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which has spectrum for offering voice and data services across the country.

The swap formula proposed by the DoT Secretary to the Ministry of Defence could provide some relief to the incumbent players as it provides them the option to buy more spectrum.

Importantly, the 15 MHz which DoT has identified for swapping is currently lying unused.

The Government will also get the much required funds because DoT will be able to auction it as soon the Defence vacates it.

The Finance Ministry’s target of raising Rs 40,000 crore from selling spectrum last fiscal could not be met as the auction to sell 2G airwaves failed twice.

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