New Delhi: As part of a review of comments made on licensing guidelines for so-called third generation, or 3G, mobile phone services by the country’s telecom regulator, the department of telecommunications, or DoT, has recommended that no change be made to a clause that allows handing out such a licence to a CDMA-based phone firm on the criteria of number of customers it has in each licensed area.
On 1 August, DoT, the telecom policy making arm of the government, had said that CDMA (short for code division multiple access, a rival standard to the predominantly used GSM technology) mobile phone firms would be allocated 3G licences in three wireless bands if they matched the financial bids made by winning GSM-based companies.
Fair policy: Union telecom minister A. Raja. DoT has set up a panel to recommend a method to allocate spectrum for 3G services.
In one of these bands—800MHz, one of the most optimal in terms of networks costs and service quality—if more than one CDMA firm was willing to match the GSM bid, the department said, the licence would be awarded to the bidder that had the most number of customers in a licensed area.
This, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or Trai, said on 13 August, was “against the level playing field (in the sector) and the principle of equity.” Companies such as Reliance Communications Ltd, or RCom, India’s second-ranked mobile phone services firm by customers, and Tata Teleservices Ltd, both of which run their networks on CDMA technology, have customers far in excess of other licence-holders such as Shyam Telecom Ltd as also state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.
Going by subscriber numbers, RCom is eligible for the first CDMA licence in the 800MHz band if it matches the top GSM bid in 18 licensed areas, with rival Tata Teleservices Ltd ahead in just New Delhi and Maharashtra.
New entrants, then, would have a chance to bid for CDMA licences only in the 450MHz and 1,900MHz bands—the two other bands reserved for CDMA networks. Three of four mobile phone customers in India are served by GSM networks and this dominance of the GSM technology is expected to continue in 3G services as well.
DoT, in a 20 August note that was reviewed by Mint, said a committee had been constituted to recommend a method to be followed for allocation of spectrum for 3G services. “The methodology may also include subscriber base and such other criteria as shall be deemed fit by the committee,” it said. “The report of this committee is awaited.”
Telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura said on Thursday evening that the telecom commission, the apex body at DoT, has yet to take a final view on the matter.
RCom and Tata Teleservices spokespersons said their companies do not comment on regulatory issues.