DoT may need compromises to end India roaming

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
02 Oct 2012

become a zone free of roaming charges

This follows an international trend to reduce or eliminate roaming fees across whole regions to boost usage – the European Union is progressively phasing out such charges and there are talks about “free trade” deals in south east Asia and Latin America.

Some of these are bound to have to make compromises to get past carrier hostility and cross-border politics, and that could be true of India, despite being a single country, because of the territorial structure of its mobile industry.

Telecom minister Kapil Sibal, however, says the government aims to abolish national long distance charges once unified telecom licences are introduced in December. Parliament recently approved the New Telecom Policy, which looks ahead to axing local roaming charges as well.

These fees currently account for around 10% of the mobile sector's revenues, and the loss will coincide with a time of high costs for cellcos, which are investing in 3G licences and build-out, looking ahead to LTE, and in some cases, having to rebid for cancelled GSM franchises.

Lobby group COAI warned that the loss of roaming payments would force carriers to increase call rates, which would jeopardize another government policy, to reduce overall telecom bills in order to encourage universal affordability.

Regulator TRAI has yet to initiate the consultation process over the proposals – its rules require a discussion paper followed by open house sessions with stakeholders before the rules are finalized, which suggests the ministry's timescales are optimistic as well as vague. One of the issues that will need to be resolved will be the interconnect charges operators pay one another when users are moving between two of the country's 22 operating regions or “circles.” Carriers will also have to modify their billing systems.

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