The Cellular Operators’ Association of India, which represents the interests of major telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd, has opposed any move to allow “a particular operator” (understood to be Reliance Jio) to use state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd’s cellular network for its voice services.
“We are made to understand that a commercial offer for ICR (intra-circle roaming) is being made to a particular operator and an agreement may be imminent,” said the association, without naming Reliance Jio, the telecom arm of Reliance Industries.
Reliance Jio does not have its own voice spectrum and needs to tie-up with other operators for conducting voice operations. It is learnt to have approached Reliance Communications, which is owned by the Anil Ambani group, with a similar request, and also to have reached an understanding with the firm.
However, RCom does not have coverage in many areas, while BSNL has among the best coverage and networks in India.
BSNL had, even earlier, suggested to various governments that it should be allowed to tie-up with private operators. However, previous governments have not been very keen about the idea.
The loss-making firm wants to increase revenue and cut losses by tying up with private operators.
The agreement will be a major boost to Reliance Jio as it would get pan-India 2G coverage from the deal. It would also help BSNL.
However, other operators said they were not intimated that BSNL was now being allowed to enter into deals with private operators, and as such, this move will not generate as much returns for BSNL considering that other parties were not invited in the first place.
“We request that our member operators should be given equal opportunity to participate and enter into such arrangements with BSNL so as to form to the ‘Equality Principle’ contained in Article 14 of the Constitution of India and also to meet the doctrine of ‘level playing field’,” COAI added.
“It is requested that this entire exercise should be conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner and details of the same should be shared with our member operators to ensure that BSNL benefits from a competitive commercial offering, at the same time allowing a public resource equally to all other operators.”
BSNL and Reliance Jio had, in 2014, signed a ‘tower sharing’ deal, under which Jio would put up its 4G base stations atop BSNL’s towers.
BSNL, despite having tremendous resources at its disposal, has been unable to make profits due to several reasons, including corruption within the organization and a forced expansion into non-profitable rural hinterlands.