Process begins for licences to new mobile telecom firms

Wednesday, 27 February 2008, 08:00 Hrs
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New Delhi: The Indian government Wednesday began issuing licences to nine new applicants for mobile phone services in the country after clearance from Communications and IT Minister A. Raja.

"We have started issuing the licences. We hope to complete the process in a day or two," a senior official in the ministry told IANS. "But frequency allotment is a different process and may take some more time," the official said.

A total of 25 companies that had applied for licences Sep 25 last year were found eligible for letters of intent. Of them, the top nine on the list will be issued the letters now on a first-come-first-served basis.

The companies that have received the licenses include Idea Cellular for Punjab, Swiss ByCell Holdings for five circles, Videocon's Datacom Solutions for 19 and Swan Telecom for two circles of Delhi and Mumbai.

"It is still being debated if the applicants will get all the circles they had applied for. Since frequency issue is still being examined, much will depend on how much is available and where," the official said.

This also will be subject to a verdict of the Delhi High Court, which is hearing a plea by companies whose applications were rejected by the ministry. The court had only reserved its verdict and did not stay the process of granting licences.

Early last month, these players were placed on the shortlist and were asked to complete some formalities such as payment of requisite licence fee to the government, the ministry official said.

Some ministry officials conceded that disputes could, indeed, arise on who would be eligible for spectrum on the first-come-first-served basis since many players had staked claim for being eligible first for frequency allocation.

"'Should payment be the basis or should filing of application be the basis?'" This is the main problem confronting us," the ministry official said.

On top of it, existing players in both GSM technology like Aircel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone Essar and CDMA majors like Reliance Communications, which is eyeing the GSM segment, are also awaiting allocation of fresh spectrum.

The ministry had conveyed to an industry tribunal last month that enough radio frequencies would be available to mobile phone operators after allocation of scarce spectrum to some existing players including the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group that owns Reliance Communications.

The wireless planning and coordination wing of the ministry has already conveyed to the ministry that it was facing a major frequency crunch, even as requests had been made to the defence ministry to vacate some spectrum that was not in use.

"We are pleased with the verdict as we were anticipating this decision for some time," said Andrey Polouektov, director of ByCell Telecommunications India that was among the first to get a new licence.

The company had applied for licences to five circles, each co-terminus to a state or a region, comprising Assam, other northeastern states, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

ByCell had recently got a clearance from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, after its letter of intent was withheld initially for security clearance, after which Finance Minister P. Chidambaram gave his formal nod.

The other companies in the fray include Datacom Solutions, Spice Communications, Loop Telecom, Swan Telecom, Unitech, Nahan Properties, S Tel and Shyam Telelink.
Source: IANS
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