Vodafone challenges 3G roaming stance; offers INR40bn for licence renewal

3 Jul 2013

UK-backed cellco Vodafone India has defended its right to offer 3G services outside of its licensed areas, calling on the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to withdraw its show-cause notice, the Economic Times reports. In a letter to the regulator, Vodafone challenged the DoT’s ‘contradictory’ stance, referring to previous communications from the watchdog that had said inter circle roaming was allowed: ‘We seek to understand as to why and how were such answers given by DoT, if indeed it was the DoT’s position and view, now being taken, that such arrangements are not permissible under Unified Access Service (UAS) licence.’ TeleGeography’s Globalcoms Database notes that in the lead-up to the 2010 3G auction, the DoT had confirmed that inter circle roaming would be allowed. Aware that pursuing pan-India 3G spectrum would be a risky and certainly costly affair due to the high volume of bidders and limited frequencies available, providers had sought clarification regarding roaming agreements as a potential solution. In December 2011 however, the government performed an embarrassing volte face and declared such agreements illegal. Legal challenges to the DoT’s policy u-turn rattled through the courts until April 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled that cellcos could continue providing 3G services outside of their licensed areas to existing customers but would not be allowed to sign up new subscribers in those areas.

In related news, Vodafone has offered to pay the government INR40 billion (USD671.5 million) for the renewal of its licences. The regulators are currently involved in a dispute with the incumbent providers over the renewal of concessions and are looking to force the providers to repurchase their spectrum rights through a new round of auctions. The cellcos in question, however, claim that under the terms of their licences they are entitled to negotiate a mutually acceptable price to extend their licences, rather than run the risk of losing their spectrum rights at auction.