Free roaming still looks like a distant realty in India with the government yet to implement the "One nation - free roaming" objective announced in the New Telecom Policy (NTP) announced six months earlier. The implementation is trapped in red tape.
Subscribers currently have to pay up to Rs. 1 per minute when they move from one circle to another.
Telecom minister Kapil Sibal had earlier announced that free roaming would be implemented by next year.
“The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is working out details on the implementation of free roaming,” said R Chandrashekhar, secretary, DoT. “It is part of the policy and we have to do it.”
While service providers say they are yet to get any direction from the DoT, a number of issues would have to be resolved before free roaming is implemented.
Different prices of spectrum in different states remain a key issue.
“The issue has to be viewed holistically,” said Sanjay Kapoor, chief executive officer, Bharti Airtel, India and South Asia. “It’s not just about one part. Every state has different spectrum pricing.”
"How can tariff for a subscriber in Bihar be same as that in Mumbai, given that spectrum in Mumbai is much costlier than that in Bihar?" said Rajan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).
He also pointed out that licences were issued circle-wise. There will be security implications if it is not implemented properly, he said.
“We want the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to conduct a detailed study on various aspects of free roaming,” said Mathews.
Delhi-based telecom analyst Mahesh Uppal said the government should issue necessary orders to implement it. "This is an useful thing for consumers and the government should pass the necessary rules."
BK Syngal, former chairman and managing director, VSNL, however, said that operators could compensate for loss of revenue due to free roaming by raising tariffs in some other form.