Tribunal rules against cellcos in long running WiLL dispute

11 Aug 2003

A number of mobile operators, united as the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), have failed in their attempts to have wireless in the local loop (WiLL) services revoked in the country. The Telecoms Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) voted two-to-one in favour of limited mobility services, settling the regulatory confusion that has persistently dogged one of the world’s fastest growing telecoms markets. The judgement has been welcomed by fixed line operators, including major providers Reliance and Tata, who have faced unrelenting criticism from cellcos since launching WiLL services, dubbed an illegal back-door entry into the wireless sector. Mobile operators have long been angered that their fixed line counterparts have avoided spending the INR250 billion (USD5.4 billion) estimated to be required to launch GSM services and lured away customers with cheaper WiLL offerings. The COAI has yet to comment on the ruling, other than to say it will be reviewing proceedings further, but a number of mobile operators have privately expressed concerns that the regulatory environment is becoming increasingly hostile to their cause. The two camps are due to lock horns once more over the TRAI’s latest proposals on unified licensing for fixed and wireless services. India has around 15 million mobile subscribers, a figure expanding by around one million a month; the number of WiLL connections, currently standing at 3.4 million, is expected to soar in the coming months as a result of the ruling.