The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has sought the law ministry's opinion on the judgment of Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) allowing intra-circle 3G spectrum-sharing pacts amongst telcos.
Interestingly, while DoT is working on a proposal to allow 3G spectrum sharing under the new licensing regime, it is against 3G intra-circle roaming pact signed by operators like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular which are operating under old permits.
DoT had termed 3G spectrum-sharing pacts as illegal and asked the operators to terminate their agreements.
However, TDSAT had passed an order on April 29 stating that these pacts do not violate the licence agreement. Airtel, Vodafone and Idea have signed pacts to offer 3G services in those circles where they did not win airwaves required for giving third-generation services.
Last week, Reliance Communications entered into similar pact with Aircel to provide 3G services in five more circles where it does not hold 3G spectrum. It holds 3G spectrum in 13 circles. DoT has now sought legal opinion on such pacts.
DoT sources said that under the old licensing regime, there was a restriction on use of certain technology and hence licences of companies which won 3G spectrum were tuned for 3G services only in those areas where they acquired spectrum through auction. They, however, added that DoT has discussed internally allowing 3G spectrum sharing for new Unified Licence (UL) holders because the latest permit provides for deployment of any technology in spectrum purchased through auction.
"Once incumbent players migrate to UL, they will enjoy similar benefits as all spectrum under new permit will be liberalised (free to use any technology) but we have to first see recommendation of Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)," an official said.
Airtel, Vodafone and Idea won 3G spectrum in 2010 auction under old permits called Unified Access Service Licence. Airtel won 3G spectrum in 13 out of 22 telecom service areas for Rs 12,295.46, Vodafone in nine for Rs 11,617.86 and Idea in 11 circles for Rs 5,768.59 crore.