Indian ministers have revealed that they will begin talks this Thursday on a new telecoms licensing regime in a bid to settle the dispute between fixed and mobile operators surrounding wireless in the local loop (WiLL) services. The country’s cellcos are strongly opposed to the service, claiming that fixed lines companies selling WiLL phone services are in breach of telecoms rules, and state that they have lost USD2.7 billion in total since WiLL roaming started. They have threatened to appeal to the country’s highest court against the type of service offered by companies such as fixed line telco Reliance Infocomm.
According to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), the WiLL licences that have been awarded should limit the service to inside city-wide networks, but Reliance offers WiLL services that are interconnected between cities through WiLL roaming, making it a serious rival to cellular operators. Representatives for the Association of Basic Telecom Operators (ABTO) argue that if WiLL roaming facilities were banned, the country’s goal of increasing teledensity would be seriously inhibited; WiLL services have become increasingly popular in 2003. The country’s telecoms ministers hope that a new licensing plan aimed at merging wireline and wireless services under a ‘unified’ concession will bring the spat to an end.
At the end of June 2003 there was a total of 41.38 million fixed lines in service in India, almost no change on the 41 million recorded in March 2002. WiLL subscribers, on the other hand, leapt from 100,000 in March 2002 to 310,000 a year later, and 2.17 million at the end of June 2003, a hefty growth rate of 600% in just three months.