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December 31, 2012
Mobile users may have to wait a little longer to access the benefits of free nationwide roaming

Minister for communications and IT KapilSibal has affirmed that mobile users will not have to pay any roaming charges from 2013. The government had, in May this year, announced the “one nation, one licence” regime as part of the National Telecom Policy, 2012. The aim of the policy is to abolish roaming charges and allow mobile subscribers to use the same number across the country without having to pay any extra charges. Free roaming within the country is a norm worldwide, in countries such as the US, Canada, France, Germany and England.

DoT is planning to direct telecom operators to do away with roaming charges from March 2013. To address implementation issues, DoT has established a committee under its technical adviser, which is expected to submit its report in early February 2013.

On the sidelines of the curtain-raiser event of the India Internet Governance Conference, Sibal stated that all issues related to the 2G spectrum auction and migration to the unified licence regime will be resolved before considering the modalities of free roaming. This process, according to the minister, should not take more than a couple of months. However, the industry expects the March timeline to get extended.

One reason for this is the anticipated operator resistance to the move owing to its financial implications. Currently, subscribers are charged up to Re 1 per minute for roaming between circles. Roaming services account for 8-10 per cent of the total operator revenues.

Another key issue highlighted by operators is the different prices of spectrum across circles. They argue that the implementation of free roaming ought to be viewed as a holistic issue as each state prices spectrum differently. An example put forward by industry bodies is that the tariff for a user in Bihar cannot be the same as that in Mumbai as airwaves in the latter circle are priced higher than those in Bihar. Besides, operators have expressed their reservations on issues such as traffic routing, challenges in interconnection, revised number plans, tariff rebalancing, and licensing terms and conditions.

In this scenario, mobile users may have to wait a little longer to access the benefits of free nationwide roaming.



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