3G roaming pact: Airtel, Idea and Vodafone compete each other in one circle

Telecom service providers – – Airtel, Idea Cellular and
Vodafone – – which are facing criticism from the telecom ministry for entering
into illegal 3G roaming agreement, do not compete each other in all their 3G
circles that they won during the May 2010 spectrum auction.

Their absence in select circles and subsequent 3G roaming
pact caused major loss to the central government. If these three big operators
competed aggressively in all these circles, the spectrum auction price could
have gone up further. The government made around 1 lakh crore through
auctioning both 3G and Broadband Wireless Access spectrum.

Out of the circles they won, Airtel, Idea Cellular and
Vodafone compete each other only in Uttar Pradesh East. (please refer the
table below). This shows that during the spectrum auction itself, these companies
avoided competing each other due to obvious reasons.

However, factors like availability of limited spectrum and
high spectrum fee also forced operators to bid for limited circles, according
to analysts.

Airtel and Vodafone compete each other in 3G circles like
Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh East, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Airtel and Idea Cellular compete each other in 3G circles
such as Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh

Idea Cellular and Vodafone compete each other in Gujarat,
Haryana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh East.

The cartel between these operators is known to the telecom
industry in India. Their agreement offers disadvantage to customers and other
operators. They should have taken prior approval from the government before
starting 3G roaming agreements,” saidAnil Prakash, president of the
Telecom User Group of India.

Our telecom regulator failed to ensure that 3G operators
are offering quality 3G services at reasonable tariffs. Indian telecom tariff
is not regulated by the government now,” Prakash added.

Airtel won 3G licences in 13 telecom circles of India such
as Delhi, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh (east),
Rajasthan, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, North East, Jammu &
Kashmir. The country’s largest operator paid Rs 12,295 crore.

Idea Cellular won 3G spectrum in 11 service areas including
Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (E),
Uttar Pradesh (W), Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir,
at a total cost of Rs 5,768 crore.

Vodafone paid Rs 11,617 crore for spectrum in 9
circles including Delhi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kolkata,
Haryana, Uttar Pradesh E and West Bengal.

Experts say there are more than 15 million 3G customers in
the country, of which only 25 per cent are active. Hence, there would be
limited impact.

Through the roaming agreements, Airtel, Vodafone and Idea
offer services in the circles where they don’t hold 3G spectrum. While Vodafone
has spectrum in nine circles, it offers services in 20 circles. Similarly,
Airtel has 3G spectrum in 13 circles, but offers services in 20. Idea Cellular
has spectrum in 11 circles, but offers services in 19. The number of circles
where 3G spectrum was auctioned last year is 22.

Table: 3G licenses of operators

Airtel Idea Vodafone
Delhi  > >
Andhra Pradesh  > >
Gujarat  > >
Assam  >
Himachal Pradesh  > >
Bihar  >
Haryana  > >
Karnataka  >
Jammu & Kashmir  > >
Kerala  >
Maharashtra  > >
Kolkata  >
Mumbai  > >
Madhya Pradesh  >
Punjab  >
North East  >
Rajasthan  >
Uttar pradesh – East  > > >
Tamil Nadu  > >
Uttar pradesh – West  >
West Bengal  > >

By Baburajan K
[email protected]