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GSM players may get DoT reprieve

Move part of multi-pronged formula to end telecom row

Siddharth Zarabi  |  New Delhi 

The department and five operators will meet on Wednesday to discuss a multi-step formula.
The department of telecommunications (DoT) and the five large operators of GSM-mobile services that are scheduled to meet on Wednesday are expected to discuss a multi-step formula that will give priority to incumbents in spectrum allocation and lower the qualifying criterion for additional spectrum.
DoT's offer will be made on condition that GSM operators end all litigation filed at the tribunal. DoT is also expected to emphasise that it will press ahead and introduce more competition in the sector.
These options are being considered as the basis for a settlement on the impasse over licensing and allocation of spectrum, radio frequencies that enable mobile communications.
Under the formula, which has the support of key interlocutors in the sector, incumbent operators could be granted additional spectrum in their current service areas and for the new ones for which they have sought licences.
Holders of letters of intent like Maxis Aircel would come second, followed by CDMA-service operator Reliance Communications, which has applied for spectrum to launch GSM-services under its current licence.
New applicants would be considered for licences and spectrum, depending on their place in the queue, only after this.
Key to this formula is the suggestion that the minimum subscriber criterion for existing service providers to qualify for additional spectrum may either be lowered or operators granted spectrum on a temporary basis till they optimise their networks.
The qualifying criterion was first raised by the regulator and then increased still further by DoT's standards-setting organisation the Telecom Engineering Centre.
Communications ministry sources added that with DoT de-linking spectrum allocation from the new licences, all applicants will be granted licences but will be allotted spectrum based on their eligibility.
DoT will also grant incumbent operators more spectrum based on eligibility norms that are being reviewed by a committee comprising government officials and private sector representatives.
The operators are working on a strategy that could include demands to make the new subscriber norms applicable prospectively and not retrospectively. They may also demand that excess spectrum with incumbents not be withdrawn and spectrum charges be lowered.
Those invited to the meeting by DoT Secretary are Bharti's Sunil Mittal, Reliance Communications' Anil Ambani, Idea's Kumar Mangalam Birla, Spice Telecom's B K Modi and Vodafone India Chief Executive Asim Ghosh.

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First Published: Mon, November 19 2007. 00:00 IST