New Delhi: In a consequence of the tussle between the department of telecommunications (DoT) and telecom service providers over intra-circle 3G roaming, India’s fifth largest telco by subscribers Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) has put its agreement with Aircel Ltd on hold.
“We had signed with them. Initially, it was an arrangement to test compatibility of the networks...such as is done whenever two operators sign a roaming agreement,” an official with one of the telcos involved said requesting anonymity. “It has been put on hold for now at least till the regulatory issue is resolved. Once that happens, then we will revisit the agreements.”
Aircel did not respond to requests for comments.
In September, Aircel started offering 3G services in six circles—Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and western Uttar Pradesh, where it did not win spectrum in last year’s auction. Aircel partnered with TTSL to provide 3G connectivity to its customers in these areas.
The partnership was one-sided as it did not involve TTSL using any of Aircel’s infrastructure.
The move to pause the deal comes at a time when DoT is considering if it should take action against telecom service providers including Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd for what the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has recommended be deemed “illegal” roaming arrangements.
The arrangements, announced in July, enabled Bharti, Vodafone and Idea to offer 3G services in areas where they did not win 3G spectrum in last year’s auction.
The chiefs of these operators have written to various officials in the government as well as to the Prime Minister that if the agreements are declared illegal it would be tantamount to changing the rules of the auction after the fact. The operators have said that if the roaming agreements are declared illegal, the government would have to take back the spectrum and refund their investments, and then reauction the spectrum.
Various arms of DoT have opined that the agreements are akin to spectrum-sharing, which is not allowed in the country at present. DoT is looking at allowing spectrum-sharing next year.
The roaming agreements are based on a June 2008 amendment of the telecom licence agreement that allowed new telecom service providers to piggy-back on an older operator’s network till such time they were able to set up their own network.
The aim was to get their operations started as soon as possible and provide seamless connectivity to the new operators’ subscribers.