India’s newest mobile network operator, STel, which launched commercial services in December 2009, has been directed to halt operations by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the Economic Times reports. It is understood that the regulator has called on STel to stop mobile services in the three circles where it had launched – Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa – on the back of national security concerns. The operator, however, has stated that the government has yet to provide it with any details of the issue, with P Swaminathan, director of STel, noting: ‘We have not been given any reason or explanation and STel has followed all procedures and got the necessary approvals. We have sent our reply to the DoT and asked them to provide further details on the security issue,’ adding, ‘This [matter] will impact over 800,000 mobile users. The government must provide us with details to sort it out as anything concerned with national security is a major issue.’
With this being the first time that the state has called on an operator to halt services immediately – previously the DoT has issued notices stating that it may call on operators to stop offering services – some industry sources have claimed it could be a retaliatory move after STel filed a case accusing the Ministry of Communications of bias in its allotting 2G licences in 2008. The Delhi High Court has already ruled in STel’s favour in the case, but the matter is now due to be heard in the Supreme Court; in its ruling on the matter the Delhi court overturned the ministry’s decision to revise the cut off date for licences to 25 September 2007. As a result of the ruling 24 companies which between them had filed approximately 200 applications could now have to be issued 2G licences, having previously been denied concessions on the basis of the altered cut-off date.