Mukesh hits back at GSM players

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 08, 2013 03:46 hrs

MuA couple of days after the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) attacked it for getting what it called undue benefits from the government, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL) has hit back strongly.

RJIL, which plans to offer 4G services across the country, today attacked GSM operators and alleged COAI was trying to mislead people and pressure the government by linking migration of internet service providers (ISPs) having broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum to a new unified licensing regime, in which they could offer voice services, with violation of GSM members giving 3G (inter-circle roaming) services.

This, RJIL said, was being done with a malafide intention and to ensure a lenient view on their own serious breaches. It said the GSM operators seemed scared of "new competition" and "loss of monopoly" over the mobile voice market.

The COAI letter had said the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had "illegally" allowed it to offer voice services using BWA spectrum. The letter had also alleged the government was treating the operators that had signed inter-circle 3G roaming pacts differently from BWA operators with ISP licences, such as RJIL.

DoT had disallowed Bharti, Idea and Vodafone - which had signed inter-circle roaming pacts to operate in the circles where they did not own spectrum - from offering 3G services. This was challenged in court. DoT also imposed a Rs 50-crore fine on these firms for each circle in which they were offering 3G services.

In its letter to the DoT secretary, RJIL said it would like to clarify that offering voice services using BWA was always allowed, provided one held or obtained a relevant licence during an auction.

RJIL said COAI had "misrepresented the facts and misquoted" the notice inviting applications to imply the government had extended undue benefits to Reliance Jio. Also, the GSM operators had exploited the recent exits of a few operators which reduced competition and helped them arbitrarily increase tariffs, affecting end-consumers.

Responding to the RJIL letter, COAI Director-General Rajan Mathews said: "We are not afraid of anybody. But there should be a level playing field. RJIL is trying to make a back-door entry into the voice market. If it was so keen, why didn't it take a licence in 2010? Reliance is playing the same trick it played to enter the CDMA market." COAI would consider all options, including legal, depending on DoT's final decision, he added.

Mathews' current views, however, are different from his earlier response to the government's decision to allow voice services with BWA spectrum. Then, he had said COAI would not file any complaint because RJIL had been given a level playing field; it had to pay Rs 1,658 crore, and not the Rs 15-crore migration fee for shifting to unified licensing. Opposition from leading operators like Vodafone could have led the association to take a more stringent view.

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