Airtel wins reprieve on 3G services

Dylan Bushell-Embling
19 Mar 2013

India's Bharti Airtel has won a court order allowing it to continue offering 3G services - at least temporarily - in seven regions where it lacks licenses.

The court has also put a freeze on the 3.6 billion rupee ($66.6 million) fine the telecom ministry had ordered the mobile giant to pay until the next court hearing on May 8, India's Economic Timesreported.

But Airtel will be required to keep its revenue generated from 3G services in the regions in a separate bank account, and may have to surrender this account to the government if it loses its appeal.

The telecom ministry last week ordered Airtel to stop providing 3G services in the seven telecom circles, alleging that the operator is in breach of its license terms.

The operator is offering the services through its 3G roaming pact with Vodafone and Idea Cellular, which allows each to offer services on the others' 3G spectrum in areas where they lack licenses.

The government considers this and similar deals to be illegal, and has hinted it will fine Vodafone and Idea for their parts as well.

But the operators insist that they were given verbal guarantees by the telecom ministry prior to the 2010 auction that they would be able to reach similar deals to fill holes in their 3G spectrum coverage.

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