Info-tech

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone say 3G roaming deals are legal

Thomas K Thomas New Delhi | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on September 28, 2011

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Mobile operators including Vodafone and Bharti Airtel have told the telecom regulator that the 3G roaming agreement between various players was legal and approved by the Department of Telecom before the auctions were held.

In a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Vodafone has said that the concerns around the roaming agreements were unfounded. “For avoidance of any possible doubt, in February 2010, when the Government was finalising the modalities and framework for auction of 3G spectrum and its subsequent use, the industry had specifically asked the DoT whether intra-circle roaming for offering of services to customers would also be applicable for 3G in case some operators are not able to acquire spectrum in all circles,” Vodafone said in a letter sent to TRAI.

“In response to this query DoT had clearly stated – The roaming policy is applicable to the licences and not to specific spectrum bands. Hence roaming will be permitted,” the letter added.

Both DoT and TRAI are examining the roaming arrangement between various 3G players including Idea Cellular, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone. The DoT has in fact also 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.

While mobile licences allow operators to enter into roaming agreements, TRAI and DoT are concerned that 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.

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 is tantamount to spectrum sharing, which is not permitted under the licence conditions.

Operators, however, argue that 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.

Published on September 28, 2011
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