Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular to move TDSAT to stall 3G auctions

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New Delhi | February 16, 2015 1:21 AM

Telcos want disturbances from across the border to be resolved

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, 3G auction, TDSATOperators are peeved that the DoT has moved ahead to auction 5 MHz spectrum in the 3G band of 2100 MHz across 17 circles next month without resolving the issue of disturbances emanating from Pakistan. (Reuters)

Mobile operators — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — are likely to move the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) as early as this week, urging postponement of the 3G auctions till issues relating to disturbances in the band are not resolved by the department of telecommunications (DoT). The three operators could either move the telecom tribunal jointly or each on their own, industry sources aware of the developments told FE.

Operators are peeved that the DoT has moved ahead to auction 5 MHz spectrum in the 3G band of 2100 MHz across 17 circles next month without resolving the issue of disturbances emanating from Pakistan in the border circles of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. They want DoT to first change their bands with a fresh 3G spectrum and auction the balance as it had promised.

The disturbances in the border circles result in a poor quality of service in the 3G band. The problem lies with the PCS band in 1900 MHz, used by Pakistan, whose downlink moves across the border and disturbs the uplink in the 2100 MHz band used by Indian operators. As there was no spectrum at the time of the 3G auctions in 2010, the DoT had promised the operators it would change the bands for operators once it got fresh spectrum.

However, despite having accessed 5 MHz in the 2100 MHz band across 17 circles and expected to receive another 15 MHz from the defence ministry through a swap proposal, the DoT is yet to change the bands; instead is moving ahead with the auctions.

It’s not surprising that operators are being extra cautious this time around. That’s because despite assuring them, at the time of the 2010 auctions, that intra-circle roaming for 3G spectrum would be permitted, the government went back on its word. It even sent them notices penalising them for entering into such pacts. The matter is still under litigation.

“The 5 MHz on auction next month is not in these border circles but the 15 MHz, which comes via the swap, can resolve our problem. The DoT should first make it clear in writing that it will resolve our issues when that spectrum is made available to it and then proceed with the auction of the 3G spectrum,” an industry official told FE.

“This time the industry wants proper clarification on such pending issues. If the DoT does not change the bands or else the industry has no choice but to move the TDSAT. We are being forced to go for litigation,” industry executives said.

Once again, a legal battle between the operators and the DoT is brewing; already several operators have moved different High Courts seeking a restraint on auctions of 2G spectrum till their issues relating to the Notice Inviting Applications is not resolved. The DoT is understood to have moved the Supreme Court urging that auctions should not be stayed. The matter is likely to be heard on Monday.

Borderline disorder

* Disturbances in the border circles of J&K, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat result in a poor quality of service in the 3G band

* Pakistan’s PCS band in 1900 MHz, whose downlink moves across the border, disturbs the uplink in the 2100 MHz band used by Indian telecom operators

* Operators want DoT to first change their bands with fresh 3G spectrum and auction the balance as it had promised  during 3G auctions in 2010

* DoT is yet to change the bands; instead is moving ahead with auction of 5 MHz spectrum in the 3G band of 2100 MHz across 17 circles next month

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