Mobile operators oppose allowing Mukesh’s Infotel and Tikona to offer voice calls

The association of telecom operators like Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices etc has opposed the move to allow wireless broadband operators such as Reliance Industries’ Infotel from offering voice services.

The Association of Unified Services Providers (AUSPI) said the Telecom Commission has decided to allow the holders of BWA (Broadband Wireless) spectrum to offer voice services.

Technically, due to the delinking of spectrum and license under India’s new telecom policy, any company can offer voice services if it has a unified license (UL) and spectrum.

Since the broadband operators, including players like Tikona, Reliance Infotel and Bharti Airtel, already have spectrum, they just need to buy the license to start offering voice services.

According to the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that are being deliberated on by the Telecom Commission, any company can get a national level ‘Unified License’ by paying Rs 15 crore, or a state license by paying Rs 1 crore. Of course, unlike earlier, they won’t get any free spectrum along with it.

However, since broadband wireless service providers already have spectrum, they can purchase the license and offer voice and data at the same time.

TRAI, last month, told the Department of Telecoms that such an option was indeed possible under its recommendations.

“In the case of the spectrum that was auctioned in the year 2010, it was without any restricted channel plan or predefined guard bands within the assigned spectrum, except in case of 3G spectrum, carrier of 5 MHz was mentioned.

“Clause 1.1.3 of the Information Memorandum dated 23rd October 2009 as well as clauses 2.1 and 3.1.2 of the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) [for the broadband spectrum auction] state that services can be offered as per the terms and conditions of the licence obtained by the operator.

“Here too, the successful bidder for BWA spectrum could obtain any of the access service licenses viz., UAS/CMTS/ ISP category „A‟ licence. The successful bidders are also not prohibited from obtaining any licence… Thus, it is clear that this spectrum i.e. the 3G/BWA spectrum, was fully liberalised without any restriction on the technology to be used or services to be provided.

“Accordingly, once a BWA spectrum holder whether holding a UAS licence (telecom) or ISP licence, migrates to Unified Licence, the spectrum holder can offer any services that are permitted under the Unified Licence,” it said.

The TRAI also said that the spectrum given in the year 2010 was through an open auction and the full market price was paid for by the successful bidders. And it was without any restriction on the technology to be used.

Therefore, the BWA spectrum assignee, whether holding a UAS licence or ISP licence, can migrate and obtain unified licence and the scope for provision of services would be uniform under the Unified Licence,” TRAI added.

However, the AUSPI came out against allowing broadband companies from offering voice services. Such services will directly compete with those of mobile operators like Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Vodafone etc..

AUSPI said people would have paid more for broadband spectrum if they knew that voice services would be allowed on it later on.

“BWA Spectrum had a lower per MHz reserve price than that of 3G Spectrum. The Pan India auction discovered price of BWA Spectrum was Rs.642 crores per MHz against Rs. 1675 crores per MHz (uplink + downlink) for 3G Spectrum. This huge difference in the discovered prices was the result of the fact that whereas the former was eligible for offering only data services, the later could offer both voice and data services,” AUSPI said, offering a different perspective to what the TRAI said.

“This is unfair to the existing Unified Access Services licensees. It amounts to an administered pricing of spectrum, which goes against the Governments own position that Spectrum prices should be determined through transparent market mechanisms. Most seriously, it unfairly favours a few licensees, which we are sure the Government would not want to do,” AUSPI said.

In addition to the AUSPI, the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), which represents most of the big mobile service providers in India, has also opposed allowing BWA players to offer voice services.