The woes of 3G subscribers seem to be never ending. First, thanks to the spectrum bidding process, none of the service providers were in a position to offer pan-India 3G coverage, which led to a dismay and concerns around a sub-optimal subscriber experience. And then, just when telcos seemed to be offering a way out, through inter-operator roaming agreements, questions on the legality of those agreements have popped up.

First, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) reportedly noted its reservations on the validity of the spectrum sharing arrangements. Then, more recently, the Telecom ministry is said to be mulling serious actions against 3G sharing.

Consider this: There is a mobile subscriber whose service provider has not got a 3G spectrum for the corresponding telecom circle (and there would be millions of such subscribers). Does that mean that these subscribers can’t get a 3G service if they are unwilling to switch operators? I don’t think that would be fair, though I’m no legal expert and can’t comment on the ‘legality’ of the inter-operator 3G agreements.

Interestingly, 3G sharing arrangements between various operators were reportedly formed around the month of July 2011. Through these agreements, operators were to offer 3G services to their subscribers even in areas where they didn’t have a 3G spectrum of their own.

I do trust that the objective of a regulation is to facilitate telecom growth and provide a level-playing field. No wonder TRAI’s stated mission is “to create and nurture conditions for growth of telecommunications in the country in a manner and at a pace which will enable India to play a leading role in emerging global information society. One of the main objectives of TRAI is to provide a fair and transparent policy environment which promotes a level playing field and facilitates fair competition.”

Hopefully, in the interest of subscribers, the issue will get addressed soon. From a regulation and policy standpoint, maybe this underlines the need to separate the spectrum from the license!

(As published in Deccan Chronicle, Nov 16, 2011; header changed.)

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