Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular are locked in a dispute over reallocation of the 900 Mhz band in the Delhi circle, the deadline for which is the end of this month. Idea has also opposed extension of the licences of the incumbent operators in this band — Bharti and Voadafone — as it will lead to delays in it getting the 900 Mhz band. These waves are crucial from Idea’s standpoint of offering 3G services — it currently does not have 3G spectrum in the Delhi circle.
The matter, if not resolved expeditiously by the department of telecommunications (DoT), could lead to litigation. Already, the DoT has held a series of meetings with operators, and another meeting is scheduled for Friday.
There is a total of 16 Mhz spectrum in the 900 Mhz band in the Delhi circle, currently held by Bharti and Vodafone equally. Their tenure is expiring at the end of the month.
The spectrum in the band needs to be reallocated as per the results of the February auctions, in which Idea Cellular won 5 Mhz, Bharti retained 6 Mhz and Vodafone the remaining 5 Mhz. Since the DoT has delayed the allocation of 1,800 Mhz spectrum to Bharti and Vodafone, the two are seeking a 3-6 month extension to ensure a seamless transition.
But Idea is not agreeable to the extension — it feels this will lead to delays in it getting the 900 Mhz band, which, is crucial for it. It has offered DoT a solution for seamless transition of radio frequency, which it feels can be done by the end of the month.
Company sources say that while Vodafone has no issues with the solution, Bharti is not happy with it.
The February auctions not only saw Idea as the third claimant for the 900 Mhz spectrum, but also resulted in a change in spot frequencies in which operators hold the spectrum. For instance, Bharti currently holds spectrum in the frequency of 890.1-898.1, which now needs to be shifted to 900.1-906.1. Similarly, Vodafone currently holds 898.1-906.1 frequency, but it needs to move to 895.1-900.1. Idea needs to be allocated in the 890.1-895.1 frequency.
In a letter to DoT secretary Rakesh Garg, Idea, while opposing any extension to Bharti and Vodafone, has suggested that it is ready to take the central block of 896.1-901.1 Mhz instead of the earmarked 890.1-895.1 Mhz so that the existing operators (Bharti and Vodafone) do not have any change of frequency in the 900 Mhz band and, hence, they would not need to re-tune their radio frequency equipment.
This would mean Bharti making a slight shift from its existing spot to 890.1-896.1 and, similarly, Vodafone to 901.1-906.1. This way, as much as 5-6 Mhz out of the total 8 Mhz spectrum of the originally held 900 Mhz, will be the same for incumbent operators. “For additional capacity, the existing GSM operators have already acquired sufficient 1,800 Mhz spectrum which was earmarked in February 2014 and the allocation for that has already been made,” Idea Cellular’s CFO Akshaya Moondra has written.
However, the solution is not acceptable to Bharti. The company’s view is that it won spectrum in the upper portion, which provides more efficiency in 3G and 4G services. As per Idea’s solution, it would continue to remain in the lower portion, where there’s interference from the CDMA band. Idea says Bharti has already been in the spot for 20 years, so the guard band put up by it is intact. But Bharti counters that its entire effort in the auction was to move to the upper portion for greater efficiency in future.