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3G roaming deals unlawful, says Trai; Airtel, Vodafone and Idea had entered alliance

Joji Thomas Philip, ET Bureau Oct 19, 2011, 04.26am IST

NEW DELHI: A probe by telecom regulator Trai has established that 3G roaming agreements between telcos violated licence conditions, but the authority has decided to ask the government to take a final call on this issue, an official aware of the development told ET.

The Trai move comes after mobile phone companies had explained to the regulator that the telecom department, prior to the 3G auctions, had clearly specified that 'roaming policy is applicable to licences and not specific to spectrum bands'. In their defence, these telcos had also provided copies of the clarifications provided by the department on this issue before the 3G auctions. The clarifications quote the DoT's response to operators' queries on this issue as stating that 'roaming will be permitted'.

"The mobile phone companies claim they have a written agreement from the telecoms department (DoT) on 3G roaming. Trai therefore wants DoT to address this issue," the official quoted above said.

Last month, the DoT had asked the regulator to examine the 3G roaming agreements between telcos. With no telco bagging pan-India 3G airwaves in last year's auctions, the leading GSM operators - Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular - had entered into an alliance that enables them to offer high-end data services on a pan-India basis (except Orissa). Bharti, Vodafone and Idea had won 3G airwaves in 13, 9 and 11 circles, respectively, and their roaming pacts ensured that customers of these companies can access high-speed data services even in the regions where they don't hold 3G airwaves. Aircel, too, has a similar deal with Tata Teleservices and offers 3G services in six circles using the latter's airwaves.

The GSM operators had also told Trai that 3G roaming agreements would augment the customer experience by allowing users to access high-speed data services on a pan-India basis, while also ensuring better utilisation of national resources and increased revenues to the government. Besides, they also added that these deals would help improve broadband internet coverage.

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