Users of Bharti Airtel’s network in cities like Delhi and Mumbai who were looking forward to a 10-15-fold increase in surfing speeds on their mobiles will have to wait a bit more. While Bharti Airtel bought BWA (4G, in jargon) licences from Qualcomm in 2013, the department of telecommunications (DoT) has still not given the company permission to use BWA spectrum for mobile telephony — it can be used only as an internet service provider (ISP).
Bharti Airtel has already launched its BWA services in four other areas — Punjab, Maharashtra, Kolkata and Karnataka — and has roughly 2 lakh subscribers on its service already. While not too many phone devices work on BWA networks right now, the later iPhone models do.
The bone of contention, though the DoT has written no formal letter to Bharti Airtel, is believed to be the status of the licence. Under the terms of the BWA auction, an applicant could bid as either an ISP or for a universal access service licence (UASL). While Qualcomm had bid as an ISP, Bharti Airtel already had a UASL licence, so its contention is that it does not need to pay a UASL licence fee to use its BWA spectrum for mobile telephony. Reliance Jio, which does not have a UASL licence, was asked to pay for a UASL licence in order to be able to use its BWA spectrum for mobile telephony.
However, an internal DoT note, never sent to Bharti Airtel, contends that Bharti Airtel needs to pay. Since the demand has not been raised on Bharti Airtel, the company cannot challenge it before the TDSAT, it simply has to delay rolling out its BWA services. It can launch internet dongles in these cities but the real money lies in launching services that can be used on mobiles/tablets. This means the head start it could have got over Reliance Industries, which has a pan-Indian BWA licence, gets eroded.
The advantage Bharti Airtel has is that, since it also has 3G spectrum, consumers can get 4G services in certain parts of the network and can fall back to 3G in other places.
Bharti Airtel bought Qualcomm’s spectrum in Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala in 2013, and formed a company called Airtel Broadband Services. Seven months ago, the Bombay High Court approved the merger of ABSPL with its parent Bharti Airtel. DoT, however, has not given it the permission to merge the former’s ISP licence in the circles of Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala along with its BWA spectrum with the latter’s UASL in the respective circles.
The issue raised by DoT in its internal note is that since Qualcomm had acquired the BWA licence as an ISP which will become a UASL upon merger with Bharti, the latter should pay the additional fee for migrating to UASL, which comes to around Rs 436 crore.
Bharti bought Qualcomm’s BWA licences in Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala and Haryana in 2013
DoT hasn’t yet allowed Bharti to use this for voice services
Internal note of DoT says firm needs to pay R436 cr for this
Bharti has a UAS licence, so says it does not need to pay
But since DoT hasn’t raised a claim on Bharti, firm can’t even challenge this in TDSAT