You have enough spectrum, address call drops: Prasad to telcos

You have enough spectrum, address call drops: Prasad to telcos

Doing some plain speaking on call drops, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today asked mobile operators to walk the extra mile to reinforce their systems as they have enough spectrum to provide telephony services without interruption.

The minister said he has asked sectoral regulator TRAI to suggest a disincentive mechanism to tackle the problem, though he refused to share if it will be a financial disincentive.

"The point is, as of now, let me tell you as a minister that I would like all the telecom operators to reinforce their system, to avoid call drops, to properly run their operations. Once we are willing to walk the extra mile, they also walk the extra mile," Prasad said in an interview to PTI.

Government put the highest amount of spectrum to auction in March, some of which remained unsold, he said, adding that therefore the argument given by operators that not enough spectrum is available with them does not hold substance.

"...this argument I don't appreciate, enough spectrum is available, what is important for them is to drop issue needs to be addressed by the operators, whether BSNL or private ones because consumers want no call drops. Now I would appreciate if telecom operators earnestly addressed this problem," he said.

The government is willing to walk the extra mile to address the concerns of the telecom sector but in turn, the industry should also improve its services and avoid problems like call drops, he said.

The minister said that to revise merger and acquisition (M&A) guidelines for the sector, the Department of Telecom is meeting stakeholders and a final call will be taken once the recommendations are finalised.

"A committee headed by Telecom Secretary is working on it. They have had a lot of meetings with stakeholders. Let them finalise their whole recommendations then we will take a call. Time is not the factor at all, if there is need for immediate pushing, surely we will do it. I shall be very frank with you," Prasad said.

The minister also put his weight behind the industry's concern over installation of mobile towers by saying that call drop allegations and campaign against tower installation can't go hand in hand.

"I have already spoken publicly about this campaign on the tower issue and I want to repeat that there is no tangible evidence of any harmful effect. Therefore, call drop allegations and campaign against tower installation can not go hand in hand," he said. 

Telecom operators have for long been demanding changes in the M&A rules, terming them difficult. Vodafone had earlier said that companies should be allowed to buy assets of a particular firm such as spectrum, and not the entire firm which has a lot of debt on its books.

Sectoral regulator TRAI had also said M&A rules need to be reworked for an pick-up in consolidation activity.

The Telecom Commission, highest decision making body of DoT, has already finalised its views on spectrum sharing and trading guidelines and it will be sent to Cabinet by the end of this month.

Once trading is allowed, it is expected to increase efficient use of radiowaves by enabling telecom operators, who have a lower subscriber base or un-utilised spectrum, to trade in it.

On the auction of 3G spectrum, Prasad said the moment the radiowaves in this band are released, process for auction will be expedited.

"The moment it comes, it will be expedited and obliviously as I said the March auction was not the last auction of this government," he said.

Asked if it will be auctioned this fiscal, he said: "Let me have a look at it, if need be it will be expedited, why not."

The Cabinet in January had approved swapping of 15 MHz of 3G spectrum in 17 circles between the Defence Ministry and the Telecom Ministry. The spectrum would by available for commercial use after completion of the harmonisation process.

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