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DoT May Seek Review Of Contiguous Chunk Norm For CDMA Auction

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A Department of Telecom panel is learnt to have said it may not be possible to meet regulator TRAI's key condition of carving out a 'contiguous spectrum' in the CDMA band before auctioning the airwaves and is likely to seek a review of the recommendation.

"In four of the 22 service areas, one chunk of contiguous spectrum is available but in the remaining 18 service areas it may not be possible to carve a contiguous 5 MHz chunk in view of spectrum held by MTNL and BSNL," an official source said.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said on February 22 that a contiguous 5 MHz chunk would help fetch better prices in the auction.

"The committee is of the view that TRAI may reconsider its recommendation," the source said.

In September, the TRAI had suggested that no auction be held for the 800 MHz band, which is used by CDMA operators and has potential for 4G services, for want of takers.

Industry players alleged TRAI's clause on the contiguous spectrum chunk was a tactic to delay the CDMA auction.

To make available contiguous blocks of spectrum, the TRAI recommended that DoT take back state-run MTNL's entire holding of airwaves in the 800 MHz band.

It said BSNL should be allowed to retain only one CDMA spectrum slot in all service areas except in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and North-East, where it can keep both.

MTNL has informed DoT that it holds two slots of CDMA spectrum in Delhi and Mumbai allocated as per licence conditions and has invested in networks.

The company agreed to surrender the airwaves if the government compensates it by paying market rates for spectrum for the remainder of its licence period.

BSNL expressed reservations about surrendering spectrum as its high-end CDMA services cannot be provided using a single slot. In addition, BSNL said mobile services in rural areas will be affected, hitting millions of subscribers.

Besides public sector units, Tata Teleservices (TTSL) offered to surrender its airwaves in the 800 Mhz band, subject to the outcome of a court case on payment of a one-time spectrum charge demanded by the government.

"The matter (TTSL) is still sub-judice and hence spectrum with it cannot be considered for making a chunk of spectrum contiguous," the source said.

Sources said the DoT panel has noted differences in the TRAI's recommendations on the base price for GSM spectrum (1800 MHz, also known as 2G spectrum, and 900 MHz bands) and CDMA spectrum.

The regulator recommended a base price of Rs 2,685 crore per MHz for CDMA airwaves, which is 47 per cent higher than the minimum price approved earlier by the Empowered Group of Ministers on Telecom, and 80 per cent higher than the base price of 1800 MHz.