Rift among telcos: TRAI recommendation this month

By : |November 30, 2009 0

NEW DELHI, INDIA: Despite the vast differences that exist among telecom service providers, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has committed to come up with recommendation on spectrum management and licensing terms and condition before the end of this month.

“We will come up with recommendation on spectrum management and licensing issue before the end of this December. It may be done earlier also,” TRAI chairman Dr JS Sarma told media on the sidelines of TRAI open house discussion on spectrum management and review of license terms and condition here on Monday.

Representative of telecommunication service providers at this discussion came out with huge differences and countered almost all the points made by their competitors. The day saw clear division between GSM and CDMA players.

Speaking on refarming of spectrum, TR Dua, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India, said that allocated spectrum to the operators should not be taken back as it had been allocated to them as per the existing framework.

“We should look at the spectrum that are lying unutilized by players in various band and look at efficiently using it. The spectrum that had been allocated to the operators is as per the guidelines of government” said Dua.

Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI), an association of CDMA players, mentioned that all the operators in the country should be given equal amount of spectrum and operators having spectrum excess to 6.2 Mhz should surrender it.

“Do not allow any operators to have spectrum more than 6.2 Mhz. Give all players a level playing field,” said SC Khanna, secretary general, AUSPI.

Some of the CDMA players namely Reliance and Tata Teleservices have entered in to GSM segment as well. When asked whether he agreed that they should be given 6.2 Mhz spectrum for both their CDMA and GSM service, Khanna clarified that 6.2 Mhz has to be given on each license that had been issued to operators.

During this discussion, Narendra Gupta, director – legal and regulatory affairs, Airtel seemed irked by the frequently used term ‘incumbent operator’.

“Telecom revolution in India started in 1994-95. Some of the players have been talking about incumbent operators were also there. We also had a joint venture but later on they parted and entered into the market with CDMA technology. Now when they are not successful they started GSM service and are demanding for equal spectrum,” said Gupta.

Rajat Mukherji, chief corporate affairs officer, Idea Cellular, defended that existing spectrum allocated to the telecom operators should not be taken back.

“We have 3G service available in India in the form of EVDO. If 3G service can be started in allocated band then there is nothing that stops operators from moving forward. It is commendable that some of the operators have done so but refarming of allocated band can block operators from doing so,” said Mukherji.

There were difference seen on whether the allocated spectrum should be technology neutral or only specific technology should be allowed to operate in a particular band.

“Though UASL is technology neutral, the spectrum allocated should be used for only specified technology. The 900 Mhz spectrum band is for TDMA technology and hence it should not be given for other technology like WCDMA,” said Ashok Sood, chief regulatory officer, Unitech Wireless.

He also added that after expiry of license of operators in this band, the spectrum available with them should be auctioned and the incumbent operators should also be given chance to bid for it.

“Whosoever offers best market price should be given the spectrum in that particular band. Going in future we are also looking for transfer or sale of unused spectrum by operators and mergers and acquisition to solve spectrum crisis,” said Sood.

TV Ramachandran, resident director, Vodafone Essar contested the points made by Sood and said that the existing norms in UASL support extension of license and the norms must be followed.

“When our licenses are technology neutral and spectrum had been allocated then we should allowed to use it for any technology as per the license. The UASL had been issued with norm that extension should be given to existing license and it should not be changed,” said Ramachandran.

TRAI chairman frequently interrupted players from getting into one-on-one argument and but the indirect brick batting continued among the participants.

However Sarma sounded confident in keeping the date of recommendation despite the ongoing difference that was seen among telecom players.

“This is not the first time that we are preparing for a recommendation. The difference had been there and for that reason we had called for open house discussion. We will come up with recommendation in-time,” said Sarma.

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