3G roaming pacts under DoT scanner

Thomas K Thomas New Delhi | Updated on September 15, 2011 Published on September 15, 2011

MTNL asked to hold back deal with private players for now

The Department of Telecom has asked Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd to put on hold its plans to do a roaming deal with private players for 3G mobile services.

The DoT wants the PSU to wait till the Government decides on whether such deals are permitted under licence conditions. Roaming agreements signed by private operators, including Airtel, Vodafone and Idea, are also under scanner.

“Operators have got into a roaming arrangement in circles where they do not have 3G spectrum. They are also selling connections in such circles by using other operator's network and spectrum. We are examining if this is legal,” said a senior DoT official.

While mobile licences allow operators to enter into roaming agreements, in the case of 3G, service operators have gone a step ahead and are selling connections even in areas where they do not have spectrum. Earlier, roaming agreements for 2G services were primarily done to cater to subscribers who travel from one circle to another. But for 3G services operators have got into an agreement whereby connections are being sold in the same circle.

Spectrum sharing

For example, in Madhya Pradesh both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone do not have 3G spectrum but they have 36,490 and 1,558 subscribers, respectively, according to the DoT. This has been made possible because the two operators have entered into an agreement with Idea Cellular.

DoT officials said the key question was whether such an arrangement tantamount to spectrum sharing, which is not permitted under the licence conditions.

Operators, however, said the arrangement was legal as DoT had clarified that roaming agreements will be allowed for 3G services. “We had asked this question before the auction began and DoT had said in the affirmative. This is on record as part of the auction guidelines,” said an operator.

“The roaming arrangement is not spectrum sharing because the equipment and network belong to the operator which owns the spectrum. It would have been a case of spectrum sharing had operators put their own equipment and network on someone else's spectrum,” said an industry analyst.

Lucrative circles

3G operators had to enter into roaming agreements because none of the companies won pan-Indian spectrum during the auctions held last year. MTNL had got spectrum in Delhi and Mumbai and it wants to offer roaming arrangement to private players who did not win airwaves during the auction in these lucrative circles.

Published on September 15, 2011
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