Sector watchdog the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has published its recommendations on issues relating to the closure of access services. The document looks to provide clarity and address uncertainties regarding the switching-off of services, as the nation’s wireless market undergoes a period of consolidation. In its recommendations, the TRAI stated that Unified Access Service (UAS) licensees should be permitted to discontinue any service covered by their concession without surrendering the licence. Further, licensees should be required to provide 60 days’ notice to the TRAI and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) whilst a minimum of 30 days’ notice must be given to affected subscribers, with the telco also providing users with information on the options available to them, such as porting their number to another provider.
Regarding spectrum, the regulator proposed that if an operator decides to shut down wireless services using administratively-allocated frequencies (i.e. spectrum that was directly issued rather than awarded via auction), the airwaves must be surrendered to the government upon the closure. The TRAI also suggested that certain timelines should be introduced for the deactivation of services as a result of spectrum trading to remove uncertainties and to allow providers to give their users sufficient notice. Finally, the TRAI noted that customers switching from one technology to another, but remaining with the same service provider, should not be subject to rules for mobile number portability (MNP).
As noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the closure of Loop Mobile in 2014 due to the expiry of its licences was mired by confusion. Unable to afford to repurchase its concession for the Mumbai circle, Loop sought to minimise its losses by selling its business to another provider. Market leader Bharti Airtel agreed to purchase the cellco, but the deal was never granted regulatory approval amidst confusion on whether MNP rules should apply to customers being transferred to the purchasing company.