Trai chairman criticises DoT for delay in spectrum allocation

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 30 2014, 08:31am hrs
In a major embarrassment for the department of telecommunications (DoT) the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has thrown its weight behind mobile operators, like Bharti and Vodafone, over their grievance of nearly eight month delay in allocation of spectrum that they won in the February auctions.

Sharing the apprehensions of the operators that the delay would lead to disruption in services like call drops in metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, Trai chairman Rahul Khullar has written a letter to the DoT secretary Rakesh Garg suggesting that the latter immediately call a meeting of the operators and arrive at a feasible solution so that consumers inconvenience can be avoided.

Khullar has also written that the authority is unable to understand the reasons for this inordinate delay in the assignment of spectrum despite the clear provision in the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for the assignment of spectrum after the payment has been made by the licensees.

The authority is seriously concerned that this delay on the part of the wireless planning & coordination cell in assigning spectrum in the 1,800 MHz band may lead to a partial breakdown of services offered by these two operators, especially in Delhi, the national capital. This will inconvenience consumers greatly. Both these operators have around 20 million subscribers in Delhi, which constitute around 45% of the total subscriber base of Delhi licensed area. It is apprehended that in December there will be a serious deterioration in the quality of service to these subscribers because of call drops, network congestion etc, Khullar has written to the DoT secretary.

Sources said that though spectrum has finally been earmarked by the DoT to the operators in circles like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, which are crucial since here auctions for both 900 MHz and 1,800 MHz band were held and reconfiguration of networks in involved, DoT has not agreed for any extension of the licence.

The current licence period of operators in these circles expires on November 30. The two have maintained that it takes around six months to reconfigure the networks and due to the delay in assigning spectrum the licence period should commensurately be extended.

For Bharti Airtel, the 20-year licence agreement expires in Delhi and Kolkata and for Vodafone in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The two operators have their network in these circles built primarily on 900 MHz spectrum band. However, in the auctions held in February the two have got a mixed spectrum in the bands of 1,800 MHz and 900 MHz and, therefore, would need to reconfigure their networks. Further, Bharti, which earlier did not have spectrum in the 900 MHz band in Mumbai, has won airwaves in the circle in this band and now needs to set up a new network in this band. Similar is the case with Idea Cellular in the Delhi circle.