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No bar on BWA spectrum holders for voice services: DoT

The DoT’s stance is a setback to telecom service provider industry associations that had opposed those that got an Internet Service Provider (ISP) licence along with BWA spectrum to migrate to a Unified Licence (UL) on payment of `1,658 crore. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)Premium
The DoT’s stance is a setback to telecom service provider industry associations that had opposed those that got an Internet Service Provider (ISP) licence along with BWA spectrum to migrate to a Unified Licence (UL) on payment of `1,658 crore. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
(Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Telecom Commission notice was just a clarification, didn’t reflect any change in policy, says govt

New Delhi: The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said on Thursday that there was never any bar on broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum holders being allowed to offer voice services and that a Telecom Commission notice to this effect was just a clarification and didn’t reflect any change in policy.

The DoT’s stance is a setback to telecom service provider industry associations that had opposed those that got an Internet Service Provider (ISP) licence along with BWA spectrum to migrate to a Unified Licence (UL) on payment of 1,658 crore.

There was no inherent limitation on offering voice on the BWA spectrum that was acquired in the 2010 auction, R. Chandrashekhar, secretary, DoT, said. The service offering was dependent on the licence acquired after the auction, he said.

The winners of the BWA auction acquired ISP licences for 30 lakh after the auction. At the time, the spectrum was touted as the vehicle for 4G-based LTE (long term evolution technology), primarily for wireless data services.

The technology can also offer voice but is not yet considered evolved enough to be efficient for such services.

However, BWA auction winners were able to get 20 megahertz (MHz) slots that experts believe is enough to also account for additional voice services.

They also have the option of acquiring the Unified Access Services Licence (UASL) or telecom licence for 1,658 crore but won’t get 2G spectrum bundled with this. Between 2003 and 2008, DoT was giving telecom licences along with at least 4.4MHz of 2G spectrum (900MHz or 1,800MHz). In January 2008, the last of the bundled telecom licences were given in a process that the Supreme Court (on 2 February) ruled was flawed.

Last week, the GSM lobby group, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), wrote to Chandrashekhar and other members of the Telecom Commission, the country’s highest telecom policy decision making body, criticizing the move (to allow migration of licences) on the grounds that it amounted to retrospectively changing the rules of the 2010 auction.

COAI had earlier lobbied for allowing the migration of licences.

Chandrashekhar further clarified that the UL that the government is currently working on will be ready by next month and will include all 12 communications services that DoT gives licences for.

On 18 February, the Association of Unified Service Providers of India (AUSPI), the CDMA operators association, also criticized the Telecom Commission’s decision.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) accused COAI of misrepresenting facts and misquoting the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) to imply that the government was extending undue benefits to RIL’s subsidiary telecom company Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL).

The NIA is the legally binding document for the spectrum auctions, issued by the DoT. RJIL is the subsidiary telecom company of RIL that was earlier called Infotel Broadband Ltd. Infotel was the only company to win BWA spectrum across the country in the 2010 spectrum auction. The Nahata family-promoted company then sold 95% of Infotel to RIL for $1 billion (around 5,470 crore today).

“COAI, in its letter, has tried to associate the implementation of UL regime and migration of existing licence including ISPs with BWA spectrum to the new regime with the violations of licence conditions by their association members holding 3G spectrum which reflects malafide intent of COAI to mislead people and pressurize government for lenient view on the serious licence breaches done by their association members," the RJIL letter said.

The letter also draws attention to the sudden change in COAI’s stance on the issue calling it “motivated".

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