Caught in a bind between rival groups and a tight government policy, the lobby of GSM-based mobile telephony players, the Cellular Operator’s Association of India (COAI) may open up to negotiations for an out-of-court settlement with the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) on issues over which it has dragged the government to court.
GSM operators, who include names like Airtel and Idea, took the DoT to industry tribunal TDSAT last month after DoT announced steps to allow dual technology services (offering both CDMA and GSM services under the same licence) and tightened norms for allocation of spectrum for GSM expansion by linking it to better use of already given spectrum.
“COAI will be open to negotiations as long our rights are protected,” a GSM industry source told Hindustan Times. If the matters come to the negotiation table, the court will be informed appropriately on November 12, when the next hearing on the matter will be taking place, COAI sources said.
Time is also running out for Airtel, Vodafone Essar, and Idea. Private sector sources say they believe the DoT could be ready to ease its tight subscriber-linked criteria for allocation of spectrum in which case negotiations could prove fruitful.
A rift has broken out in the ranks of the GSM players with south-based Aircel withdrawing last week from the legal tangle involving the COAI and the DoT. Those locked still in the tussle allege that the Communications Ministry is trying to pressure operators who are fighting for spectrum to withdraw from the courtroom battle.
Maxis Telecom-managed Aircel is waiting to get spectrum in 14 circles and had earmarked an investment of $2.5 billion to have its presence in all the 23-telecom circles by 2009.
Spice Communications, also waiting to receive a pan-India licence, has also dissociated itself from the petition. It wrote on Monday to the DoT that it has no objection to the in-principle approval by the DoT for allotment of GSM spectrum for CDMA players.
Sources in COAI say that DoT’s enhanced subscriber linked criteria may be negotiable, but dual technology in the same circle area will not be acceptable to them.
Industry sources however say that if Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea’s interests are safeguarded, the entry of Reliance may not be matter much to them.
Anil Ambai, the chairman of ADAG speaking on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai told reporters that Reliance Communications will respect the judicial process. “ The reality is that the licences are technology neutral.They were upheld by TRAI and recommended to the DoT,” he said.