From the policy perspective, to start with, both National Telecom Policy (NTP 94) and NTP 99 aimed at increasing teledensity and providing cheap and affordable telecom service in remote areas of the country. In NTP 99, wireless in local loop (WLL) was allowed as part of the basic service license, but then it talked about WLL (fixed) technology. Analysts say the very basic reason why WLL was allowed as a part of basic license is because WLL is often cited as an efficient way to deploy telephony services without the expense of laying huge lengths of copper wire.
The basic service operators have rollout service obligations for rural areas. And the cost of line per subscriber largely depends on the length of copper wire laid to connect the customer in the last mile. But with WLL, most of the investment is generally incurred when the customer is connected. As a result, rather than building out a copper network, it makes sense for basic service providers to use WLL in the access network. So they need to put up base stations and incur a marginal incremental cost every time they get a new customer to connect to their network, says ICRA Advisory Services manager Amitabha Saxena.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman M S Verma explained at a conference organised to announce the IUC (interconnect usage charges) regulation, The authority had agreed to allow players to provide WLL (fixed) as a part of basic license. But then, it realised that the customer premise equipment (CPE) were quite expensive, which is why it decided to allow WLL (mobile). The authority recommended limited mobility for fixed service operators only within short-distance charging area (SDCA).
From the technology perspective, the government has taken a technology neutral stand, and has left it to the operators to decide the technology standard based on which they want to provide last mile access. But all the Indian telecom players offering WLL (M) services are providing it on code division multiple access (CDMA) standard. In this regard, experts point out that technology is not an inhibitor as both CDMA and global system for mobile communications (GSM) can provide full roaming and limited mobility services. Its only the policy that acts as a hitch.
The entry guidelines for basic service operators permit these operators to provide WLL services with limited mobility within the local area or the short distance charging area. However, mobility across the circle or nation is not permitted.
The Trai has been asking DoT to modify the licence agreements (of basic operators) to allow only V5.2 interface, as it was done with a view to restrict the mobility within the SDCA, according to an ICRA telecom report. However, the DoT has specified that V5.2 interface or any superior technology can be deployed for offering limited mobility using WLL.
The DoT has pointed out that the restriction of mobility within SDCA can be achieved even without the use of V5.2 interface.
The cellular operators meanwhile felt that WLL M was encroaching on their areas. The decision to allow limited mobility using WLL was challenged by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) before the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) and is due to come up for hearing on the 24 February 2003.
WLL M can provide services that are partly substitutable, compared with cellular mobile services, says Mr Saxena. However, WLL M, under current regulations, cannot provide seamless national and international roaming which the cellular network is capable of offering, as per the authority. Though some basic operators providing limited mobility services do plan to overcome this hurdle through other routes like multiple subscription.