Telcos like Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJio) and Bharti Airtel, among others, which possess spectrum for broadband wireless access (4G), may soon have to explain their rollout plans to the department of telecommunications (DoT), which is likely to start testing and inspecting their sites to ascertain the preparedness for launching commercial services.
Sources said DoT may issue notices to the telcos if it finds they are not in a position to commence services as per the rollout guidelines. These companies had got spectrum around August 2010 and were supposed to start services within five years of allocation.
As per the auction and licence conditions, successful bidders were required to provide 90% coverage in metro area and 50% of rural area within five years of getting 4G airwaves.
While Bharti Airtel and Aircel have partially rolled out 4G services in select telecom circles, RJio, Augere Mauritius and Tikona Digital, among others, are yet to launch their services.
Telecom industry body COAI has requested DoT to review and relax rollout obligations and extend timelines for 4G services by an additional five years, till 2020, citing hurdles such as delay in development of technology and regulatory procedures. COAI cited difficulties in rolling out LTE-TDD (a 4G technology) as one of the reasons for delay in roll out of 4G services.
“The inability of the operators to even launch the services on the allocated spectrum is primarily on account of delays in the development of the requisite device and network ecosystem, a prime factor that is predominantly beyond the control of telecom service providers,” COAI has said.
COAI has also cited the two-year delay by DoT in providing backhaul spectrum to operators, which eventually affected 4G rollout.
Reliance Jio, the only telecom company to acquire pan-India 4G spectrum, has since 2013 signed infrastructure sharing deals with a number of major players, including Indus Towers, Reliance Communications and Bharti Airtel’s infrastructure arm Bharti Infratel.
In January this year, the company confirmed that it plans to offer voice as well as data services. RJio will initially cover about 5,000 towns and cities, accounting for over 90% of urban India, as well as over 2.15 lakh villages in India. The target is to expand this to over 6 lakh villages.
On the other hand, Bharti Airtel has partially launched 4G in Kolkata followed by Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Mohali, Chandigarh and Amritsar. It plans to launch 4G in Delhi and Mumbai soon, followed by other metros. Bharti Airtel on Monday said it has launched 4G trials exclusively for its existing customers in Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam.
Chennai-headquartered Aircel has commercially launched 4G services in six of the eight circles where it has 4G airwaves with very limited service for its select enterprise and home customers.