Spectrum Auction Not a Failure, Asserts Communications Minister

Spectrum Auction Not a Failure, Asserts Communications Minister
“It is highest ever sale in the last four years of auctioning”
Auction’s failure has been attributed to the high reserve price
Total upfront payment due to the government is around Rs. 32,000 crores
Trying to brush aside criticism about the just-concluded telecom spectrum auction, Communications Minister Manoj Sinha said on Friday the bidding process was not a failure.

“It is highest ever sale in the last four years of auctioning. In this year we sold around 965MHz of spectrum,” Sinha said at a press conference.

He also said this particular auction could not be compared with those in previous years where there were many license renewal cases. “This was not an auction for survival. This auction will help companies strengthen its network.”

The minister, of course, glossed over the fact that only 41 percent of the 2,354MHz on offer was sold. Also, compared to the total expected revenue of Rs. 5.66 lakh crores ($88.5 billion), only about 11.6 percent or Rs. 65,789 crores ($9.8 billion) was raised in 31 rounds of bidding. Most industry players agree that this could hardly be called a success.


In 2012, the government auctioned 390MHz, out of which it sold 127.50MHz (32.6 percent); in 2013, of 195MHZ on offer, it sold 30MHz (15.4 percent); in 2014, 431.20MHz was put on block and 353.20MHz (82 percent) was picked up and in 2015, 470.75MHz was offered, out of which 418.05MHz (89 percent) was sold.

The auction’s failure has been attributed to the high reserve price decided by the regulator and approved by the central government.
“The auction was conducted in a smooth and transparent way and after this auction there will be no such thing like call drops,” the minister said.

The auction was held for seven bands -700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz and 2,500MHz. There were no takers for 700MHz and 900MHz – as experts and the industry alike had warned.

The total upfront payment due to the government from this auction is around Rs. 32,000 crores.

Talking about the high price of 700MHz band, which saw no takers, the minister said perhaps pricing was an issue an “appropriate eco-system for 700MHz is also needed”.

For the Delhi circle, the reserve price for 700MHz was pegged at Rs. 1,595 crores per MHz – which was the highest. For pan-India, the reserve price was Rs. 11,485 crores per MHz. Of the 770MHz on offer, none was picked up.

Asked whether the government’s budgeted target of Rs. 98,994.93 crores from auction procedures this fiscal (till March 31 2017) will be met, Sinha said: “Largely, it will be achieved.”

Reliance Jio Reacts to Airtel’s Claims, Says 16 Million Calls Fail Between Them Every Day

Reliance Jio Reacts to Airtel's Claims, Says 16 Million Calls Fail Between Them Every DayHitting back at Airtel’s allegations of being “under-prepared”, new player Reliance Jio on Wednesday said it had given projections of its required number of points of interconnection to the rival three months in advance.

Reliance Jio said it has been consistently following up with Airtel and other incumbent operators over the last several months for augmentation of interconnection capacity. “In anticipation of such demand for services, Reliance Jio had given its projections for POI requirement to Airtel over three months ago. The massive deterioration in quality of service parameters would not have occurred had Airtel augmented POIs on a timely basis,” it alleged.

These requests had been denied by Airtel and the other incumbent operators as part of their anti-competitive strategy and in complete breach of their licence conditions, it added. This, Reliance Jio said, has resulted in “unprecedented call failures” between Airtel and itself.

“It may be noted that there are no call failures in Jio-to-Jio calls, while over 1.6 crore calls are still failing every day between Airtel and Jio,” it added.

(Also see: Reliance Jio Says Airtel Gesture Welcome, but Won’t Address Call Drops)
Reliance Jio, which has commercially launched its 4G services, has accused dominant incumbent operators, including Airtel, Vodafone and Idea of providing far less than adequate PoIs needed for its users to complete a call to a rival network, while the operators have charged the new entrant of unleashing a “tsunami” of free traffic on their networks.

Telecom regulator Trai, which had asked the operators to submit their network congestion details from September 15-19, 2016, to examine the congestion issue, yesterday decided to issue showcause notices on operators for call drops far exceeding the norms.

“As against allegation of under-preparedness and insufficient testing teams and efforts, reality is that work has not been held up at Reliance Jio’s end even briefly. Transmission media of Reliance Jio has been ready and operational for several months now,” it said.

Airtel on Tuesday blamed Reliance Jio itself for network connectivity issues and call failures, saying they are due to Jio’s own “under-preparedness”, insufficient testing efforts and acquiring a large number of customers at the pre-launch stage itself.

Reliance Jio Plans Revealed Voice Calls and Roaming Free, Rs. 50 for 1GB Data

Reliance Jio Plans Revealed: Voice Calls and Roaming Free, Rs. 50 for 1GB DataAt Reliance AGM, Mukesh Ambani finally broke the silence on the tariffs for Reliance Jio. The company will not be charging for voice calls at all, and it will charge a tenth of what its competitors are charging for 4G data, Ambani said – it was announced that Jio will charge only 5 paise per MB, or Rs. 50 per GB. What’s more, the greater the usage, the lower the cost will be, and the rates could go down to Rs. 25 per GB.

At the AGM, Ambani also announced that Jio services will become available from Monday, September 5, absolutely free as part of the ‘Jio welcome offer’, so everyone can try Jio’s services at no charge.

“Pay for only one service – either voice or data, not both,” he said. “World over, operators charge only for data, voice and messaging are essentially free. All voice calls for Jio customers will be absolutely free.”

The Jio 4G tariffs start at Rs. 149 for 28 days, for 300MB. For Rs. 499 per month you get a big step up, to 4GB of 4G data, plus unlimited 4G at night, for 28 days. You’ll also get 8GB of access from Reliance Jio’s upcoming network of Wi-Fi hotspots, further increasing the amount of data you can use. For Rs. 999, that goes up to 10GB of 4G data, and 20GB of Wi-Fi usage, plus unlimited usage at night. Further plans are for Rs. 1,499 for 20GB, Rs. 2,499 for 35GB, and Rs. 3,999 for 60GB of 4G data, and twice as much Wi-Fi usage respectively. The most expensive plan is for Rs. 4,999 for 75GB of 4G usage plus unlimited 4G usage at night, and 150GB of Wi-Fi data. These are all pre-paid tariffs, and Jio has not revealed its post-paid plans.

Going by these plans, the rates are actually a little different from the Rs. 50 for 1GB that was announced. The cheapest plan is actually a lot more expensive – you get 300MB of data for Rs. 149, or around Rs. 450 per GB. However, with the other plans, once you count the Wi-Fi hotspot data as well, it does work out to the rate that was announced – for example, the Rs. 499 pack gives you a total of 12GB including Wi-Fi, which works out to approximately Rs. 42 per GB. The bigger packs do get cheaper this way, so for example, the most expensive Rs. 4,999 pack gives you 225GB of data including Wi-Fi, which works out to approximately Rs. 23 per GB. And this does not account for the unlimited 4G at night you will get as well.

There will also be no roaming charges, across India, to any network, it was announced. “Put an end to all voice call charges for all voice calls that are domestic,” Ambani said. This applies to calls to other networks as well, not just calls within the network.

He also added that data must be affordable for all users. “Current market practice is to charge for data a base rate between Rs. 4,000 and Rs. 10,000 – Jio will have a base rate which is 1/10th of this,” Ambani said. “Our data plans go even further with an effective rate of 5p/MB or Rs. 50/ GB.” Students will get 25 percent extra data on the tariffs, if they show a valid ID when signing up for Jio.

Apart from the data rates, Ambani also announced that the full suite of Jio apps – for streaming movies, music, and live television – will be completely free for all users until December 2017.

Mobile Subscribers in India to Cross 500 Million by Year-End

India is set to have more than half a billion (500 million) unique mobile subscribers by the end of the year, thanks to affordable devices, easy tariff and digital literacy drives, a study by GSMA said on Thursday.

The report, “The Mobile Economy: India 2015”, said that 13 percent of the world’s mobile subscribers lived in India. The subscriber growth was forecast to outperform the regional and global averages over the coming years.

India was positioning itself as the world’s second-largest mobile market after China.

“India is a unique mobile market and one where the mobile ecosystem is playing a hugely influential role in transforming the lives of its citizens, and driving economic growth,” said Alex Sinclair, acting director general and chief technology officer at the GSMA.

GSMA is the global body of GSM telecom players.

“The market is now rapidly migrating to mobile broadband technology, which is providing a platform for India to transform into a digitally empowered society and connect many millions of unconnected citizens to the internet over the coming years,” Sinclair added.

“Continuous availability of spectrum has played a big role in India. India is an extremely competitive market,” Alasdair Grant, head of Asia, GSMA, told IANS.

The report said India had 453 million unique mobile subscribers at the end of 2014. This is forecast to cross the 500 million mark by the end of this year.

Another 250 million subscribers would be added by 2020 to reach 734 million, accounting for almost half of all the subscriber growth expected in the Asia Pacific region in this period.

“This strong growth is linked to India’s relatively low mobile subscriber penetration rate, which stood at 36 percent of the population at the end of 2014, compared to 50 percent global average. The subscriber penetration rate in India is forecast to reach 54 percent by 2020 as many millions more are connected by mobile,” the report added.

The report stated that India’s mobile industry was also a key driver of economic growth and job creation.

The industry made a contribution of Rs. 7.7 lakh crore ($116 billion) to the Indian economy in 2014, equivalent to 6.1 percent of India’s GDP.

“This contribution is forecast to almost double to Rs. 14 lakh crore by 2020, which would represent 8.2 percent of projected GDP by that point. The industry directly and indirectly supported 4 million in jobs in the Indian economy in 2014, a figure predicted to rise to 5 million by 2020,” it said.

The report also mentioned that the Indian government’s Digital India drive was playing a major role in digital inclusion.

“The number of individuals accessing the internet over mobile devices has grown from less than 100 million subscribers in 2010 to nearly 300 million at the end of 2014,” the report said.

Vodafone, Airtel, BSNL, Idea Offer Free Data, and More

Telecom operators are leaving no stone unturned to woo consumers at Diwali, popularly known as the festival of lights in India. Soon after Vodafone announced a special Diwali offer that will offer users 100MB of free data on November 11, Idea and Bharti Airtel have also come with offers for their subscribers.

Idea Cellular has introduced its all-new Idea Freedom Packs with which the company is targeting limited subscribers including students, housewives, and new users. Under the new Idea Freedom Pack (available only for prepaid users), the company is offering up to 300MB 2G data at Rs. 100 and up to 500MB 3G data at Rs. 175. Both the packs come with a validity of 28 days.

Announcing the new packs, Sashi Shankar, Chief Marketing Officer, Idea Cellular said, “Idea Freedom packs target those consumers who want to stay digitally connected throughout the month, however at 30-40% lower costs. These packs would help us enhance convenience for prepaid customers, who have to otherwise depend on multiple sachet recharges to manage their costs and internet needs throughout the month. These packs could serve as a one stop solution for them.”

Bharti Airtel, on the other hand, has announced multiple offers catering to various subscribers. The latest pack from Airtel offers new smartphone users up to Rs. 750 for signing up for the company’s data packs. The company late last month had introduced 50 percent daily cashback offer for mobile data. Airtel subscribers under the offer received daily morning credit of 50 percent of data, be it 2G ,3G or 4G, that they consumed between 12am to 6am.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has announced two special recharge vouchers that come with reduced call rates and also offer free talk-time. The new special tariff vouchers include STV35 (Rs. 35) offering local and STD voice calls to any network at Rs. 0.20 per minute, and STV48 (Rs. 48) offering 80 free minutes on local and STD calls on any network on national roaming. The company has confirmed that the special vouchers can be only availed till November 17. Notably, the new special vouchers come with limited validity.

Apart from 100MB free data, Vodafone India for its subscribers in South has also introduced ‘One Rate, One South’ pack in five south states. The Rs. 57 pack will offer outgoing mobile calls (local, STD and while roaming) at Rs. 0.01 per second in South India. The five states which will get the offer include Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.

Vodafone is also offering its subscribers in Mumbai the chance to win an iPhone 6s by sharing their selfies on Facebook with hashtag Vodafone Diwali (#VodafoneDiwali).

Telecom Firms Gear Up for Deals as Competition Heats Up

India’s crowded telecoms sector is preparing for a long-awaited shake-up as highly indebted players jostle for access to costly airwaves and brace for the launch of a deep-pocketed new rival backed by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Ambani owns oil-to-retail conglomerate Reliance Industries, which is expected to begin offering fast data services across India by early 2016.

With about 980 million wireless users, India’s mobile market trails only that of China. But despite impressive growth rates, many firms are struggling with balance sheets stretched by costly spectrum auctions and rock bottom tariffs, making the telecoms sector in India prime for mergers and consolidations.

In the first such move in seven years, Reliance Communications (RCom), owned by Ambani’s younger brother and rival Anil, has agreed to buy Russian group Sistema’s Indian mobile phone business.

“One thing is clear: India has too many players and too much regulation in this space. Not everybody can make a profitable business out of it on a sustainable basis,” said a telecoms and technology M&A banker with a leading US bank.

“The dealmaking conditions were ripe for many years, but the push is now coming from Reliance’s entry into the sector,” he said. “There will be a few more deals happening over the next couple of years, and some (players) will fall by the wayside.”

The arrival of Reliance Industries into the sector, under the brand name Jio, will further squeeze players such as RCom and Bharti Airtel.

Bankers expect smaller players to be pushed into the arms of larger rivals, bulking up to battle Reliance’s Jio.

Currently most carriers operate on wafer-thin margins, with 8 of the dozen carriers, including Aircel a unit of Malaysia’s Maxis Communications Bhd and Tata Teleservices, holding a market share of less than 10 percent, according to sector regulator Trai.

Players including Aircel, which owns coveted 3G and 4G spectrum, could be a likely buyout target, analysts and bankers said, in a market overshadowed by large players including Bharti Airtel and the Indian unit of Vodafone. Aircel did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Tata Teleservices, the seventh-biggest mobile operator, is, according to sources, looking for a buyer for the stake Japan’s NTT DoCoMo owns in the joint venture. DoCoMo decided to pull out last year, as the JV did not meet performance targets.

RCom’s Monday deal gave it access to more high-speed fourth-generation spectrum that Sistema owned, critical at a time when there is a huge demand for quality and fast data connection as more Indians access the Internet through their smartphones.

Others will follow suit, bankers and analysts said.

“The industry world over has three to five major players. India has to follow that,” said Hemant Joshi, a partner at consultancy Deloitte in India.

Aircel to Launch 3G Services in 61 Towns in Bihar by Year-End

India’s leading private telecom service provider, Aircel, Thursday announced an aggressive expansion plan of its 3G network in Bihar by adding 61 new towns to its network by December this year, an official said.

For expanding its 3G services, Aircel will set up 600 towers across Bihar to provide seamless connectivity to its constantly growing subscriber base, Aircel Bihar’s business head Hitendra Kumar told reporters.

In order to provide quality service to its customers, the leading private telecom operator will set up 600 new towers in addition to existing 3,300 towers, he said.

The expansion to new towns is set to significantly benefit a large number of Aircel customers in Bihar and redefine their data usage experience with a maximum 3G speed of up to 7.2 Mbps, he said, adding that the Aircel customers in these towns soon will be able to consume live streaming videos, HD content, gaming, social networking and browsing at very high speeds.

“The population of 3G users that expects a seamless experience is dramatically increasing, especially as mobile handsets are increasingly being used for varied purposes. We have been working tirelessly to live up to this expectation of our customers and hence, we’ve redoubled our effort in expanding our 3G network all across Bihar. We are confident that by extending our 3G network to these 61 new towns across districts in Bihar, the Aircel network will prove to be the most reliable data companion of our customers for their smart devices,” Kumar said.

The 61 new towns include Arrah, Buxar, Motihari, Sitamarhi, Lakhisarai, Begusarai, Dighwara, Bettiah, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Purnia, Nalanda, Biharsharif, Munger among others, the Aircel Bihar Business Head said.

On availability of 4G mobile service in Bihar, he said that Aircel provides such service to its business customers.

RCom Seeks 2G Intra-Circle Roaming Deal With BSNL, Idea, Vodafone

Telecom operator Reliance Communications is planning to roll out a 3G ICR-like roaming agreement to continue 2G service in Bihar, West Bengal and Assam after its right to use 2G spectrum expires in December.

“RCom already has existing and valid intra-circle roaming (ICR) agreements with other telecom operators, predominantly Tata Teleservices and Aircel, to offer 2G GSM services to its customers in these three circles,” a source privy to the development said.

Under 3G ICR, telecom operators that don’t have 3G spectrum in a circle use their partner’s network to sell and operate 3G services. The 3G intra-circle agreement has been held valid by telecom tribunal TDSAT, but the Department of Telecom has challenged it.

RCom has also approached the state-owned BSNL, Vodafone and Idea Cellular for an agreement. When contacted, BSNL CMD Anupam Shrivastava said various companies keep approaching the state-run firm for roaming and sharing agreement.

“We have listed rates for roaming agreement on our website which is open and same for everyone. BSNL will allow companies to use its spectrum as per the law of land,” Shrivastava said.

RCom has failed to win back 900 Mhz spectrum it uses for providing 2G mobile services in West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Odisha and the North-East service area.

The company bought spectrum in 1800 Mhz band in Odisha and the North-East, but it would require to almost double the network size to provide coverage to its existing 2G GSM customers.

However, its deal with telecom operators having 900 Mhz spectrum can ease the burden a bit. BSNL holds 900 Mhz spectrum throughout the country, which gives wide coverage for mobile service compared with other spectrum bands.

Vodafone and Idea did not respond to queries. RCom is looking at the option of buying airwaves under spectrum trading guidelines to support services in these three circles, but the two-year waiting period to operationalise a trading deal does not work in its favour. RCom declined to comment.

The company has over over 19 million customers across these three service areas, but its number of customers on its 2G GSM network could not be ascertained.

RCom, according to sources, is focusing on migrating most of 2G customers in a majority of the circles to 3G network by offering equal mobile call and Internet rates.

Vodafone has also lost 900 Mhz spectrum in Tamil Nadu and uncertainty prevails over continuity of 2G service to its customers.

Vodafone did not elaborate on its plan of continuing 2G service as the matter is sub-judice.

Call Drop Problem to Improve in 3-4 Months in Delhi

Vodafone on Thursday said there will be significant improvement in call drop problem in Delhi within 12-16 weeks as it plans to put up more sites as well as augment capacity of the existing ones.

In the last six months, Vodafone has put up over 500 sites in Delhi NCR, while capacity of existing 550 sites have been augmented.

“As an operator, my sense is that in next 12-16 weeks, you will see clear tangible difference in call drops and overall voice quality (problems),” Vodafone Business Head (Delhi) Apoorva Mehrotra told PTI.

The company plans to set up more sites, he said but did not share the exact number.

“We are rolling out more sites, wherever we identify gaps and our capacity needs to be augmented. We regularly do drive tests to see and identify pockets where we have issues,” he added.

Mehrotra said Vodafone has invested more than Rs. 350 crores to modernise and upgrade existing voice and data network in Delhi.

Sectoral regulator Trai has said there was no significant improvement in call drops in Mumbai and Delhi as operators are lagging on various fronts in meeting the standards.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said no operator was meeting the benchmark in Mumbai, while in Delhi three top players Airtel, Vodafone and Aircel are found to be lagging in offering good quality services.

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said recently that call drop issue is starting to improve. The Minister named telecom operators like Airtel, Aircel, Idea, Vodafone, and Tata Tele among those having contained the problem and said nearly half of the defective mobile sites have been fixed to address the menace.

Vodafone said it is investing heavily into high capacity fibre/ backhaul to significantly increase the Internet connectivity to the rest of the world, which will benefit all its data subscribers.

Vodafone has a total of 12,322 sites in Delhi-NCR which includes 6,190 2G sites and 6,170 3G sites. The company has over 9.8 million subscribers in the region.

US Secret Service Allowed to Use Warrantless Stingray Phone Tracking

A new policy allows the US Secret Service to use intrusive cellphone-trackingtechnology without a warrant if there’s believed to be a nonspecific threat to the president or another protected person.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Seth M. Stodder described to a House of Representatives subcommittee Wednesday the department’s policy on the use of cell-site simulators.

Civil libertarians and privacy advocates have long expressed concern about the suitcase-size devices, known as Stingrays, which mimic cell-towers to scoop up electronic data that can be used to locate nearby phones and identify their owners. The devices don’t listen in to phone calls or capture text messages, Stodder said.

The policy the department unveiled this week is similar to the one announced in September by the Justice Department, which includes the FBI.

Federal law enforcement officers are required to get a warrant signed by a judge before using Stingrays, except under emergency “exigent circumstances” meeting the constitutional standard for probable cause under the Fourth Amendment, but when there is no time to get a warrant.

Stodder cited the example of kidnappings, such as a recent case where Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers used a Stingray to help locate and rescue a 6-year-old girl being held hostage by human smugglers in Arizona.

But Stodder said another allowed exception under the policy would let the Secret Service use Stingrays in “exceptional circumstances” without meeting the legal threshold for probable cause. In such cases, using the devices would require direct approval from “executive-level personnel” at Secret Service headquarters and the US attorney for the relevant jurisdiction.

Asked whether that essentially granted a blanket exception for the Secret Service, Stodder said that the exemption would not be used in routine criminal probes, such as a counterfeiting investigation.

“The key exception that we envision is the Secret Service’s protective mission,” Stodder said. “In certain circumstances where you could have an immediate threat to the president and you have cryptic information, our conclusion in drawing the line between security and privacy here is to err on the side of protection.”

Stodder added that such information could be “a cryptic email or something like that” indicating a security threat to the president where agents would lack the time or the information to determine probable cause, “but you need to locate that person.”

Cell-site stimulators have been used for years by both state and federal law enforcement agencies, who tout them as a vital tool to catch fugitives and locate suspects. But privacy groups and some lawmakers have raised alarms about the secrecy surrounding its use and the collection of cellphone information of innocent bystanders who happen to be in a particular neighborhood or location.

Stodder could not immediately say how many times department law-enforcement officers had used Stingrays without warrants in recent years.

Congressman Ted Lieu said Wednesday the newly announced guidelines are a good first step, but added that the policy still lacks transparency and provides overly broad permission for Stingrays to be used without warrants. The new federal policies also don’t apply to state and local law enforcement agencies that have purchased Stingrays, sometimes through the use of federal grants.