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Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Spectrum auction for 5G likely in later half of 2019: Telecom Secretary

Spectrum auction for 5G likely in later half of 2019: Telecom SecretaryThe Department of Telecommunications wants to provide a one-year timeframe for trials to happen with experimental spectrum. Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan Sunday said auction of spectrum for 5G services is likely to happen in the later half of 2019.

"Right now, it (5G allocation) is looking to happen in later half of next year," she told PTI here.

The 5G services would offer telecom companies better visibility into market dynamics and potential revenue streams of the next-generation mobile services, Sundararajan said.

As long as monetisation avenues and opportunities are properly identified, rollout would not take long because there is no requirement for replacing hardware as it was done to upgrade from 3G to 4G services, she noted.

"5G services are all software driven... They don't have

To go and replace the hardware... So, it can happen much faster," she said.

However, before the auction, Department of Telecommunications wants to provide a one-year timeframe for trials to happen with experimental spectrum, the Secretary said.

Hence, the government intends to give experimental licenses for telcos to develop test beds to evolve a full-fledged eco-system, she added.

On the trial test bed funded by the government, Sundararajan said it was coming up at IIT Madras along with other IITs. Ericsson's test bed is already functional, she noted.

To a query, Sundararajan said the government is expected to decide on spectrum allocation for 4G services to public sector firms BSNL and MTNL within the next couple of months.

"The proposals for cabinet approval are under process. It won't take time.. We will have our cabinet note ready at the earliest.. So within the next couple of months we expect a decision by the government," she said.

It is very important to allocate 4G spectrum for BSNL and MTNL to survive, she added.

In March, the Standing Committee of Information Technology had asked the Centre to allocate 4G spectrum to BSNL and MTNL at the earliest to help them compete and survive in the market.

BSNL and MTNL operate in 20 and 2 telecom circles, respectively.

Both had requested for 5 Mhz block of radiowaves in 2100 Mhz band in the service area where they operate. (Source: Business Standard)

DoT awaits clarification on in-flight connectivity norms from shipping ministry

DoT awaits clarification on in-flight connectivity norms from shipping ministryThe telecom department is awaiting clarification from the shipping ministry over area to be covered in the sea for mobile services under In-flight connectivity service before releasing the final rules. In-flight connectivity norms will also cover maritime transport.

"The DoT is in final stage of issuing In-flight connectivity rules. The shipping ministry has to clarify whether the coverage for mobile services in water vessels is to be provided till territorial waters or EEZ (exclusive economic zone)," an official source told.

Territorial water extends up to 12 nautical miles (around 22 kilometers) from coastal line of the country, while EEZ of country covers up to 200 nautical miles.

"The framework will be issued as soon as the DoT receives clarification from the shipping ministry. It is expected to be completed very soon," the source said.

Telecom Commission - the highest policy making body of Department of Telecom (DoT) - on May 1 cleared the recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for allowing telecom services on flights and maritime transport under In-flight connectivity (IFC) rules. The service is now available in most of the developed markets.

Major airlines, including Air India and Vistara, have welcomed the government’s decision, and Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu has said he will ensure "earliest implementation" of the proposal.

While mobile phone use will still be restricted during takeoff and landing, Telecom Commission has approved the lifting of a ban on the use of mobile phone and internet services at cruising altitudes.

Globally, many airlines are already offering wi-fi for passengers, but they currently have to switch off the facility when they enter the Indian airspace.

AirAsia, Air France, British Airways, Egypt Air, Emirates, Air New Zealand, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic are among 30 airlines that are already allowing mobile phone use on aircraft.

A separate category of licencees - in-flight service providers - will be created for offering such services, and licence fee for such niche providers will be pegged at Re 1.(Source: Economic Times)

Hyundai, Wipro in talks with DoT to set up telecom gear testing centres

Hyundai, Wipro in talks with DoT to set up telecom gear testing centresHyundai Motor India and WiproNSE 0.16 % Limited are in talks with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to set up testing centres as the government finalises plans for mandatory local testing of telecom equipment by the end of this financial year.

The South Korean automaker and the Indian information technology services firm have entered into initial discussions with the engineering wing of the DoT and have shown interest in setting up laboratories in India for testing telecom equipment, officials told ET. “New test labs are being set up. Hyundai’s representatives have come to us and the company wants to establish a telecom lab in India,” said Shakeel Ahmad, senior deputy director general, Telecommunication Engineering Centre.

TEC is a Delhi-based nodal agency of the DoT which establishes standards and specifications for telecom products, services and networks. Ahmad said that Hyundai’s representatives discussed the feasibility and scope of telecom-centric testing in India with the officials of the government’s telecom engineering division. The Seoul headquartered company already operates a testing centre for motor vehicles in India, he said, and wants to expand into telecommunications.

“Wipro is also interested in setting up a security lab for telecom sector,” Ahmad said. ET’s queries to Hyundai and Wipro did not elicit any response till late evening on Friday. Under new rules, the Narendra Modi-led government has mandated that multinational gear vendors such as Finnish Nokia, Swedish Ericsson, and Chinese Huawei and ZTE get their equipment locally tested and certified from March 31, 2019. At present, India has 20 designated test laboratories, most of which have recently been accredited to conduct desired checks for the safety requirement of telecom equipment. (Source: Economic Times)


Telcos, ISPs cry foul over public Wi-Fi model; ask PMO to reject TRAI paper

Telcos, ISPs cry foul over public Wi-Fi model; ask PMO to reject TRAI paperObject to PDOs, say the decision will hurt the sector, lead to an uneven playing field
Telecom operators and internet service providers have opposed the public Wi-Fi model recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and have written to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) saying the move would compromise national security.
The separate letters, copies of which have been seen by BusinessLine, said such a decision would adversely impact the debt-ridden industry and also lead to a non-level playing field between licensed and unlicensed players.

Based on existing rules for cyber-cafes, TRAI had recommended that a new set of players, called Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs), be allowed to set up Public Data Offices (PDOs) to resell internet services, much on lines of the PCOs of yesteryear which facilitated telephone calls.

However, in its letter, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has called for continuing the current licence model, in which only those with permits are allowed to provide internet services. This, it said, will help maintain stability and consistency in licensing and regulatory framework.

The COAI said acceptance of TRAI’s recommendations would be a violation of Telegraph Act, a disruption of the level-playing field, and a contradiction of the TRAI Act, and a loss of revenue to the exchequer.

The COAI, whose members include Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone, and Idea Cellular, has been opposing implementation of TRAI’s suggestions for public Wi-Fi services since April 12, 2017.

It said allowing services like the internet to be resold under a registration/authorisation without obligation of any statutory levy, compliance with security guidelines or TRAI regulations, would be against the very basic foundations of the Unified Licensing Regime, and should be allowed only through a Unified Licence for Virtual Network Operators (UL-VNO).

“Therefore, we would request the government, in the interest of the level-playing field, to reject these recommendations ab initio. However, if government still feels that PDOAs should be allowed for rural areas/ villages, then it should be mandated in rural areas/ villages through licensing,” said Rajan S Mathews, Director General, COAI.

The COAI has also written to Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan on the matter. The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) has also written to the PMO, stating that it was disappointed with TRAI’s recommendations as it aimed to bypass licensing requirements, and would be detrimental to investments made by small licensed ISPs.

The new regime would only force small ISPs to shut shop and lose their investments. It would also only serve large foreign operators who intend to work without being subjected to any licensing regime, revenue-sharing and security requirements, the ISPAI said.
“We therefore request the PMO to inform the DoT (Department of Telecom] to not accept the recommendations of TRAI to maintain the level-playing field and to protect the business of small ISP operators (sic). We also request DoT to allow us an opportunity of personal hearing at the earliest,” said Rajesh Chharia, President, ISPAI, in the letter.

Meanwhile, Assocham has also written to DoT, calling the TRAI recommendations ‘completely unjustifiable and unwarranted’, reasoning that it would disrupt the entire licensing framework and affect the huge amount of investment already made in the telecom infrastructure.

If PDOAs need to be introduced, then it should be done under a licensing framework only, the industry body added. (Source: The Hindu BusinessLine)

Telecom gear import may cost more as rupee falls

Telecom gear import may cost more as rupee falls The rupee’s fall to an all-time low versus the US dollar is likely to push up costs of imported telecom gear used in mobile phone networks by nearly Rs 4,500-5,000 crore and exacerbate the financial stress of telecom operators, compelling them to consider deferring 4G network expansions in the near term if the Indian currency remains weak, said industry executives and analysts. Sustained fall of the rupee versus the greenback, they said, could also increase the foreign debt servicing costs of some phone companies and hit their profitability in the coming quarters since as much as 30% of the sector’s Rs 7.7 lakh-crore debt is said to be dollar-denominated. The local unit touched an all-time intraday low of 69.09 a dollar on Thursday. However, the rupee recouped some of its losses on Friday and closed at 68.47 a dollar.

A whopping 80% of the telecom equipment used in local phone networks is imported from foreign vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and ZTE, which is why big telcos such as Bharti AirtelNSE 1.06 %, Vodafone India, Idea CellularNSE 4.67 % and RelianceNSE 2.91 % Jio Infocomm are estimated to collectively splurge nearly $7 billion (over Rs 48,000 crore) annually on network equipment. “Accordingly, the sharp fall of the rupee is estimated to jack up the mobile network devices import bill for the sector by 8-10%,” said a telecom analyst at a leading global brokerage, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said: “The downward movement of the rupee would make imported 4G gear procurements more expensive for telcos in the immediate term as bulk of their equipment and service contracts are dollar-denominated, which could aggravate financial stress levels in the industry.”

The COAI represents large telcos including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Jio Infocomm. Mathews said that margins of telecom operators would also take a hit if the rupee slide was not arrested quickly, especially since phone companies would “suddenly be compelled to earn a lot more rupees to be able to buy the requisite quantum of dollars to pay their network gear import bills and upcoming dollar-debt servicing obligations”.

Another analyst at a foreign brokerage, who did not wish to be identified either, backed the view, saying “telcos could be forced to put major network capex deployments on hold in the short term amid the sharp rupee fall, especially since most telcos seldom hedge their dollar-denominated gear import contracts for short-term currency swings”.

Mainline telecom equipment used in mobile networks includes core network systems, radio gear such as base stations, mobile switching centres, network management systems, billing systems and transmission devices. Asenior executive of one of the top three telcos said the sharp fall of the rupee had come at a particularly bad time, given that the older carriers were trying to quickly ramp up their 4G networks to compete effectively with the 4G entrant, Reliance Jio Infocomm. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio did not reply to ET’s queries on the impact of the rupee depreciation on imported network gear procurement costs. (Source: Economic Times)
MTNL approaches govt for allotment of 4G spectrum

MTNL approaches govt for allotment of 4G spectrumThe state-owned corporation is seeking 4G radiowaves in both Delhi and Mumbai service areas where it operates.
Even as its revival options are being mulled, loss-making MTNL, in a bold move, has approached the government seeking allotment of 4G spectrum in two bands and offered its equity in return. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) CMD P K Purwar said the firm has written to the Telecom Department seeking spectrum in the 1800 and 2100 MHz bands to launch 4G services in order to strengthen its service portfolio in a fiercely-competitive telecom market.

"To survive in the mobile telephony market, 4G presence is a must. MTNL has submitted a proposal to the Department of Telecom (DoT) for allotment of 4G spectrum recently," Purwar told PTI. The state-owned corporation is seeking 4G radiowaves in both Delhi and Mumbai service areas (also called circles) where it operates.

"In the market, over 85 per cent downloads are taking place in data in 4G. In this competitive landscape every single operator has to have presence in 4G. To compete effectively, MTNL also requires 4G services in its portfolio," he said. MTNL is seeking 10MHz in Delhi in the 1800 band and 5MHz in Mumbai in 2100 band, and is keen to start its 4G services in the current financial year. The corporation currently has spectrum in the 900, 1800 and 2100 MHz bands, he said, adding that it has 2.2 MHz in 1800 band and 5 MHz in 2100 bands used for 3G services.

"We have said that government has two roles -- one as licensor and another as a promoter of MTNL. As a licensor they are duty-bound to take their financial charges for allocation of spectrum. MTNL has requested that payment should be taken by the government in the form of equity. As per our initial assessment, the spectrum block should cost roughly Rs 6,500 crore," Purwar said. MTNL, he added, is ready to issue equity shares to the government as per market rate in lieu ofspectrum allocated. This, he said, will ensure that MTNL is not burdened with additional debt.

The government currently holds 56 per cent stake in MTNL, while Life Insurance Corporation has about 19 per cent. The rest is with the public. MTNL's debt stands at a staggering Rs 17,000 crore, and its annual interest burden is close to Rs 1,450 crore. Bruised by a fierce competition from private sector players, MTNL's losses stood at Rs 2,893 crore in 2014-15, Rs 2,005 crore in 2015-16, and Rs 2,970 crore in 2016-17.

Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha in February, had pointed out that both BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd) and MTNL have been incurring losses for a number of years, and therefore, have been declared as incipient sick as per Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) guidelines. Sinha had also said that the revival plan of MTNL prepared by its consultant "is under consideration" by DoT.

The recommendations include defending current revenue and additional revenue streams, asset monetisation, lowering retirement age from 60 to 58 years for employees, Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS), debt restructuring and finding synergy in operations of MTNL and BSNL.(Source: ETtelecom)

Over Rs 8,000 crore telecom projects face delays in north east

Over Rs 8,000 crore telecom projects face delays in north eastThe government’s ambitious plan to provide seamless connectivity across the country’s north-eastern region has made little headway despite the Union Cabinet approving a comprehensive plan more than three years back. Budgetary estimate for the plan - that would have provided a stable telecom network in the north-east — has gone up from the originally-envisaged Rs 5,300 crore to over Rs 8,000 crore. However, not even one project has been completed so far, official sources said. The states that would be covered as part of the project are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The projects are critical in nature as they require work in the border areas and strategically-sensitive zones.

According to the originally-envisaged plan, a total of 8,621 villages (and the national highway region around them) had to be provided mobile coverage through the project that received approval from the Cabinet in September 2014. While one part of the project — covering areas in the sensitive zones of Arunachal Pradesh and two districts of Assam — was accorded to BSNL, the actual work is yet to take off.

BSNL had called for tender in April 2016, and had awarded work to two companies — Vihaan Networks (VNL) and HFCL — in April last year under the preference to domestically-manufactured telecom products policy. However, the telecom department is yet to give final orders to award the work here. On the other hand, the project for the other six states and remaining districts of Assam has been stuck for the last many years. The work for this was handed over to the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) of the telecom ministry, but did not see much movement until last year.

While USOF had floated a tender for the project only in May 2016, but this had failed to get any response initially. Following this, a new tender was issued in March last year that had received only one bid from Bharti Airtel, which was awarded a Rs 1,610 crore contract. However, work is yet to be completed even here, and meanwhile Airtel opted out of Meghalaya, which has further slowed down the progress of the project. The telecom department and USOF have now decided to have both 2G and 4G in Meghalaya, taking the cost of the project in the state to Rs 4,300 crore against the originally-envisaged Rs 1,400 crore.

Telecom minister Manoj Sinha has said that improving telecom infrastructure in the north-east is a priority for the government. “Projects are running behind schedule due to a variety of reasons, which include inadequacy of the agencies that are implementing the projects; hindrances due to various developmental activities like expansion of national highways; hilly terrain and remote and inaccessible areas. Law and order related issues are another trouble area for the region,” Sinha said recently. (Source: Times of India)



Aircel parent infuses Rs 95 crore to help pay staff, meet other expenses

Aircel parent infuses Rs 95 crore to help pay staff, meet other expenses Maxis Communications, the parent company of beleaguered Aircel, has provided Rs 95 crore to help the bankrupt mobile phone operator pay salaries to its around 5,000 employees and tide over immediate operational expenses.

Aircel management has been closely working with Malaysiaheadquartered Maxis, owned by businessman T Ananda Krishnan, for the emergency infusion, the person told ET. Maxis is making the infusion through Mauritius-based subsidiary Global Communication Services Holdings (GCSH).

In a statement, GCSH said it has infused Rs 95 crore at March end to pay salaries and to meet some expenses for about a month-and-a-half till when the Interim Resolution Professional (IRP) was appointed by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). Around 5,000 employees of Aircel, which filed for bankruptcy protection in the NCLT in February, have not been paid salaries since that month. Security personnel and contract staff, too, have not received their dues, raising safety concerns for the operator that is struggling to service a debt of over Rs 50,000 crore due to falling revenue and dwindling cash flows amid fierce competition.

Krishnan, who over the past 12 years had about $7 billion into Aircel without any returns, had decided to pull the plug on the telco, hamstrung by the brutal competition and legal woes that had stymied the company’s attempts at merging with Reliance Communications to survive.

Aircel’s quarterly operating profit of Rs 120 crore in July 2016, before Reliance Jio started services in September 2016, plunged to an operating loss of Rs 120 crore in December 2017. Aircel did not respond to ET's queries. The Malaysian businessman’s latest dole out will be a near-term breather for the telco, which, under the bankruptcy process, is trying to find ways to get operations going again and repay its lenders. Experts say that while the amount is woefully inadequate, it at least is a sign that the management and the promoters are trying to take care of the carrier’s human resources which are key to its bid to restart operations.

ET had earlier reported that Iyer, in a letter, had assured employees that the company had initiated discussions with “an external party” to provide funds for salary dues. While admitting Aircel’s petition for bankruptcy protection, an NCLT bench had said it believed there was potential to revive the business, given the telco’s revenue generation and assets worth more than Rs 32,000 crore, including spectrum. Besides NCLT, Aircel has been battling legal tussles with tower firms GTL Infrastructure and America Tower Company (ATC), and vendors such as Swedish gear maker Ericsson over unpaid dues. (Source: Economic Times)

Foxconn's Nokia factory talks may bear fruit

Foxconn's Nokia factory talks may bear fruitFoxconn Technology is in an advanced stage of talks with the Tamil Nadu government to resolve a Rs21,000-crore tax dispute, which could help revive the Nokia mobile manufacturing plant in the state and provide employment to thousands. The Taiwanese company has taken a significant step already in this direction, buying some machines from the plant earlier this year. A senior state official said Foxconn was keen to revive the plant, which is lying defunct for more than three years now. The state government held several rounds of discussions with the company, which now needs to bring in a formal proposal, the official added.

Once the company makes an application, the state would approach the Centre to lift an asset freeze on the plant and facilitate the revival of the factory which at its peak employed some 12,000 people and produced more than 100 million handsets a year. At the time, it was the world’s largest facility for the then mobile handset market leader Nokia, and was a showcase for India’s manufacturing capabilities.

“Foxconn’s India arm is talking to their headquarters to get internal clearances, and once they give a formal proposal, we may move the department of revenue, Government of India, to at least release the plant for their operations,” the official said. “They are keen, because they’re a neighbour and they know the local ecosystem, workers, etc., and our only agenda right now is to make sure that the machinery and building that is lying vacant, gets utilised again,” he said.

Foxconn has a phone manufacturing facility at Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, located on the border of Tamil Nadu’s capital, Chennai. It employs around 6,000 people there and produces handsets for the likes of Xiaomi, Nokia and Gionee.

The world’s largest contract manufacturer, which is also the biggest contract manufacturer for phones in India, did not respond to ET’s request for comment. But a person familiar with the discussions at the company said “the plan is to go further in this direction".

Another person said Rising Star Mobile India, through which Foxconn runs its India manufacturing operations, bought machinery from the Nokia plant — shut in late 2014 — for an undisclosed amount after the Finnish company got permissions from the Central income tax authorities, as well as the Madras and Delhi high courts to sell those. It required the permission as there is a freeze on the assets due to the unresolved tax case.

"Earlier this year, Nokia engaged with a buyer interested in purchasing production machinery,” a Nokia spokesperson said. “Subsequently, we worked with the respective authorities and secured the necessary permissions for executing the sale of those specific production machinery."

Nokia has been trying to revive the plant for years and had even closed in on the Essar Group as a potential buyer two years ago. But the ongoing tax case thwarted the sale. The factory was then valued at Rs 360-415 crore. In fact, the tax dispute had kept the facility out of Nokia’s global deal four years ago to sell its handsets business to Microsoft.

"We remain open to discussions on the sale of the remaining assets including the Nokia building unit, and hope for similar support from the authorities should we find a suitable buyer," the Nokia spokesperson added.

Foxconn had earlier approached the state and Central governments to take over and revive the plant, but with a condition that it should not be saddled with liabilities from the legal issues. The talks back then had fizzled out.

Industry insiders said the latest efforts for the plant's revival appeared to be on a more solid ground as it’s a win-win for both the state government and the company. Success will help the Tamil Nadu government — which has the backing of the Centre — to showcase this as a successful development and employment generation initiative for a state which has seen political turmoil over the past year.

Foxconn, on its part, has plans to aggressively expand its capacity in the country so that it can export from here. Reviving the Nokia plant will allow Foxconn to also restart its own unit in the same Nokia SEZ, which was a feeder to the now-idle main manufacturing facility, even as it explores other states including Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra for expanding operations.
The plant’s revival will also aid in the government’s larger aim of producing 500 million phones a year by 2020 under the Make in India programme, and bring to a closure another chapter which — together with the Vodafone-India retrospective tax dispute — had hit India’s image as an investment destination. (Source: Times of India)

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