New Delhi: India’s plan to introduce free roaming across the country is likely to be further delayed as the move needs more than just an administrative order, two senior department of telecommunications (DoT) officials said.
“There are a number of issues that need to be sorted out before it can be implemented. We will have to follow the correct procedure. We have to seek recommendations from Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India),” said one of the DoT officials, adding that a mere administrative order could lead to litigation from companies adversely affected by the move.
A panel that has been formed to look into the matter should be ready with a road map in the next few months, the second DoT official said, adding that the move was a short-term goal of the National Telecom Policy 2012 and would be achieved in a year. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
In May, the cabinet approved the National Telecom Policy 2012, a document based on which the government will frame policy and direct the sector for the next 10 years. The document has a number of aims and objectives, including abolishing roaming charges, removal of circles to create national and regional telecom operators, allowing the sharing and trading of spectrum and easier merger and acquisition (M&A) rules.
Earlier on Thursday, communications minister Kapil Sibal said DoT had finalized an agenda for the next three months—December 2012 to February 2013.
“Some of the key activities proposed to be completed by February 2013 are approval of policy on spectrum assignment and pricing, approval of unified licensing regime, approval of M&A guidelines, finalization of guidelines for spectrum sharing, creation of fund for R&D (research and development) and manufacturing, mobile number portability on a nationwide basis, removing roaming charges across India and coverage of the remaining inhabited villages in the north-eastern states,” Sibal said in New Delhi on Thursday.
The finance ministry has also asked DoT for an update, including timelines regarding the implementation of the free-roaming policy. It is unclear if DoT has responded as yet.
The abolition of roaming charges will require addressing a number of issues, Sanjay Kapoor, CEO, India and South Asia, Bharti Airtel Ltd, said on 10 December.
“The issue has to be viewed holistically,” he said. “It’s not just about one part, it includes STD. We have to look at the 22 circles in the country. Every state has different spectrum pricing. Tariffs are different.”
“Some of the bigger operators will probably be against it as it would mean loss of revenue for them. But less than 10% of the 900 million-mobile phone users roam nationally. So the revenues are not that high,” said a senior telecoms analyst at a multinational brokerage requesting anonymity. “There may be a slight impact on tariffs as the operators will try to adjust for lost revenue.”
Under the current system, an operator has to pay another for terminating calls on its network, commonly called a termination charge. Usually bigger operators such as Airtel gain revenue due to a larger user base and coverage area across the country.