The ball in the spectrum war between GSM incumbents on the one hand and new applicants and diversifiying CDMA players on the other may yet land up in the court of the telecom regulator again – though it is not clear whether that would lead to a change in criteria for spectrum allocation.
The latest step involved a new panel of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to decide on spectrum allocation after a government-industry panel reached a stalemate, with GSM players walking out.
But the panel has been asked to consider a two-stage formula under which startup spectrum could be allocated at a fixed price followed by auctions for further allocation. This has thrown up a new option in a game where auctions have been avoided so far.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has tried to involve the regulator again, even as it approached the Delhi High Court at the weekend, challenging industry tribunal TDSAT, which has refused to stop spectrum allocation to new players and CDMA incumbents.
The court is due to start hearing on Monday. A source in Bharti Airtel said that its joint managing director, Akhil Gupta, met DoT Secretary DS Mathur last Friday in an attempt to put forth a suggestion from the COAI to involve the regulator.
“He said the entire spectrum allocation should be referred back to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and allocation to new applicants and others must be suspended until the issue is resolved,” the source said.
Mathur offered no comment, and neither confirmed nor denied the proposal.
The managing director of Tata Teleservices, which along with CDMA leader Reliance is trying to diversify into GSM operations, said incumbent GSM leaders appeared to be stalling competition. “ All this is only a delaying tactic,” Anil Sardana told Hindustan Times.
After the TRAI opened up entry into the sector in August, the DoT accepted its recommendations and 46 applicants have queued up to get pan-India telephony licences and spectrum to match. The DoT’s Telecom Engineering Centre tightened subscriber-linked spectrum allocation criteria for incumbents suggested by the TRAI and later, the industry-government panel arrived at a stalemate in trying to fix a formula.