Rollout extension for India’s operators

Rollout extension for India’s operators

There’s good news at last for India’s operators after disappointment over 5G spectrum prices, floor prices and AGR dues. India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has extended the compliance deadline operators are being asked to meet as part of their minimum network rollout obligations (MRO).

The deadline extension is now 30 September. Before the coronavirus made rollouts difficult, it had been 31 May.

This extension might be seen as inevitable in some ways: coronavirus-related lockdowns have had an adverse effect on the movement of people and hardware. However, the DoT had kept big names such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio waiting nervously (and regularly requesting action) and expecting penalties of around $6.6 million (at current exchange rates) per MRO violation if nothing changed. The DoT circular confirming the new date was finally issued on 27 May.

Given that mobile phone companies had hoped for a six-to-nine-month extension, this isn’t quite what they wanted. Under the MRO compliance process, once they have been allocated spectrum operators need to make submissions to DoT on the meeting of network rollout targets in their licenced service areas.

And the problem isn’t just moving things around the country. Imports have been hit and some manufacturing facilities in India have either suffered from short staffing or temporary shutdowns: Nokia’s factory in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, had to close for a period after 42 staffers reportedly tested Covid19 positive.

The MRO process is a complex one, involving many tests and checks as well as multiple approvals from various state authorities and local municipal bodies. It would be no great surprise if further extensions are requested well before September.

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