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DoT holds back more spectrum to GSM cos
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The government is understood to have held back allocation of additional spectrum to GSM mobile operators including Bharti Airtel in Orissa; Vodafone in Delhi, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu; and Reliance Communications in Mumbai in view of a judgment by the telecom tribunal.

The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) had earlier this month said that GSM operators have no vested right to get spectrum beyond 6.2 Mhz.

After verification, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said that GSM players met the eligibility criteria and hence were eligible for additional GSM spectrum.

Besides these operators, Idea Cellular is also understood to have applied for additional spectrum in various circles, including Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (West), Bihar and Mumbai. This, however, could not be confirmed.

The move to hold back allocation of additional spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz despite an operator having a specified number of subscribers is bound to impact the expansion and quality of mobile services in these areas.

In the light of the TDSAT judgment, the DoT has decided to seek legal opinion before allocating additional spectrum to any GSM operator.

Vodafone, Bharti, Idea and RCom have demanded additional spectrum based on the criteria announced by the DoT in January last year.

Sources said that Aircel’s application for additional spectrum in Assam and Bihar was also pending with the DoT, which would be cleared only after the legal opinion.

The TDSAT had asked the DoT to work out the criteria again taking into account the recommendations of both telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and Telecom Engineering Consultants in a month.

Some spectrum is available in the 1800 MHz band for allocation to GSM players, sources in the Wireless Planning and Coordination wing of the DoT said, adding that the DoT was distributing the radio frequency till recently based on January 2008 criteria.

Leading private operators like Airtel and Vodafone have been allocated up to 12 MHz of GSM spectrum in a circle. With the TDSAT’s judgment, the DoT is likely to take a view on whether to get the extra spectrum back or charge a fee for it.

Although the TDSAT did not clarify how to deal with cases where the operators have already been allotted extra spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz, sources said the DoT may charge a one-time fee based on each MHz and also annual usage charge.

When contacted, an Airtel spokesperson said, “A number of operators, including those with cross-over technology, have applied for additional spectrum in various circles after achieving the required subscriber base as prescribed by the authorities.”

“Thus, this is a broader industry issue. Any attempt to single us out in this matter would be motivated and likely driven by vested interests. We remain committed to the highest standards of regulatory compliance,” Airtel said in a statement.

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