DoT arm: 3G roaming deals by players not having spectrum are illegal

Thomas K. Thomas New Delhi | Updated on March 12, 2018


5 mobile operators, including Airtel, Idea, in trouble

Roaming agreements between various operators for offering third generation (3G) mobile services are illegal, the Department of Telecom's enforcement and resource monitoring cell has said.

The Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) cell of the DoT has also said that action must be taken against those operators that have entered into such roaming deals, whereby a mobile operator without 3G spectrum is able to offer services.

Earlier this year, Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone had signed a roaming agreement for offering 3G services. Similarly, Aircel is riding on Tata Teleservices' 3G spectrum in six circles through a roaming deal.

Selling connections

While mobile licences allow operators to enter into roaming agreements, in the case of 3G, some 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. This kind of arrangement was necessitated because neither of the mobile companies won 3G spectrum in all the circles during the auctions held in 2010.

For example, in Madhya Pradesh neither Bharti Airtel nor Vodafone has 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.

“TERM cell is of the opinion that these 2G service providers resorting to such agreements for providing 3G services by way of intra-circle roaming arrangements with 3G service providers are illegal service providers and action under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 may be initiated,” said an internal DoT note viewed by Business Line.

The specific note relates to the roaming agreement between Idea Cellular and Vodafone in Delhi, but similar notices have been prepared for other operators, including Airtel. When contacted, the Bharti Airtel spokesperson said, “We are in compliance of the licence conditions and all our agreements are as per the stated Government policy.”

CVC intervenes

Meanwhile, the Central Vigilance Commission has sought clarifications from the DoT on the issue. The CVC has asked the DoT's Vigilance Wing to investigate the allegations of corruption and irregularities against certain officials.

A Public Interest Litigation has also been filed in the Delhi High Court alleging that the roaming arrangement has led to a loss of more than Rs 20,000 crore to the national exchequer.

A senior DoT official said that the issue was being looked at legally and a final view will be taken soon.

“In the light of the views of the TERM cell and the provisions of the licence conditions, we have to decide whether this type of deal between operators can be called as roaming or is it a case of spectrum sharing or a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO),” the official said. Under existing rules, operators are not allowed to share spectrum or enter into an MVNO arrangement.

Vodafone, in a letter to the DoT, said that the concerns around the roaming agreements were unfounded as it had sought clarifications on the issue before the auction. If the DoT finally decides to go with its enforcement cell's views, then it will have revenue implications for the 3G operators. It could also result in higher roaming tariffs for 3G subscribers.

Published on October 11, 2011

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