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Indian spectrum-sharing pacts ruled illegal

Three of India’s leading operators may be fined by the country’s Department of Telecoms after an agreement between them was ruled illegal. Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone Essar could be fined INR500 million (US$10 million) for every region covered by a privately agreed 3G roaming deal.

According to the TERM unit (Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring) – a branch of the DoT which has urged the government to address the matter – aspects of the agreement contravene current regulatory outlines concerning spectrum sharing and MVNOs.

Since no operator was able to obtain 3G spectrum in all of India’s telecom circles at auction last year, cooperative roaming arrangements provided them with a means of offering nationwide 3G coverage. Between the thirteen circles in which Bharti held spectrum, Vodafone’s nine, and Idea’s eleven, the roaming deal allowed subscribers of each operator to access 3G services nationwide.

Vodafone has reportedly stated that "the arrangement to provide 3G services is in complete compliance and agreement as per government policy and guidelines", while Bharti claims that it is in "complete compliance with licence conditions and all its agreements were as per stated government policy."

Similar independent roaming agreements were reportedly under consideration by other operators, but this ruling will likely put a stop to future deals – despite the potential benefits for state-owned operator MTNL, which was attempting to reach a sharing agreement with Tata Teleservices and Aircel over its 3G spectrum in Mumbai and Delhi. Neither of the private operators were able to obtain spectrum in these key cities during the auctions.

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