Telecom companies offering 3G services can continue to offer pan-India services for the time being,on the basis of a ruling by the Delhi High Court on Monday.
The court has stayed the execution of a department of telecommunications (DoT) order to immediately stop 3G mobile services by companies where they do not own licences. The order was challenged by Bharti Airtel whom the department had asked to stop offering the services in seven zones where it was doing so through sharing of the airwaves with service providers which had the licences for those zones.
The order was issued last week to Bharti after it submitted its stand on the subject to a DoT-constituted committee on the matter as per the direction of the Delhi High Court in October 2012. The department also levied a penalty of Rs 350 crore on Indias largest telecom service company. Similar penalty could be levied on Vodafone and Idea too once their hearing before the committee is over.
The case relates to the 3G auctions for airwaves in 2010 where no company had won the band for pan-India. As the companies began to roll out their services it meant they had to use each others spectrum.
While the telecom companies claim that the DoT had allowed the possibility in its discussion with them,the government now does not think so. In the process the roll out of 3G services in India has got delayed.
The government order comes in the background of an acknowledged shortage of spectrum available per operator in India. Against at least 200 Mhz even in Asian countries,the average in India is just 100. Through the intra circle roaming operators are able to maximise the usage of 3G spectrum capacities,most of which otherwise would lie idle in the absence of an investment climate for the sector where all companies are facing dwindling cash flow.
An informed source said intra circle roaming is also in consumer interests,since it not only allows for maximum asset utilisation but also clips tariffs through higher competition in each circle.
Earlier this month,Idea Cellular had received a stay order from the Delhi High Court in an almost similar case to be able to roam in circles where it had not won spectrum in the November 2012 auctions.