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Tribunal limits limited mobility

New Delhi, Sept. 27: The Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal today asked the government and the telecom regulator to take penal action against limited mobile operators who violate licence conditions by offering calls beyond their local call area.

However, the judgement did not strike down the use of the new switching technology which allows basic telephone operators to offer roaming facility on their limited mobile phones instead of confining calls to local call areas of 25-km radius called SDCA (short distance calling area).

While TDSAT chairman Justice D. P. Wadhwa has upheld the cellular operators’ contention that limited mobile operators should not install mobile switching centres that allow calls to go beyond SDCA, the two other members on the tribunal, R. U. S Prasad and P. R. Dasgupta, have upheld the limited mobile operators’ contention that ‘technology neutrality’ has been permitted as part of their licence. Hence, there is no need to install additional software or hardware to show explicitly that calls drop within the SDCA.

Consequently, limited mobile phone service providers emerged from court a happy lot. Telecom operators said by implication the TDSAT had allowed limited mobile service to continue in its existing form without effecting any change in its nature or infrastructure and has merely shifted the job of policing and penalising to the government agencies.

TDSAT has directed the government to set up a task force comprising members of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to develop technology which will restrict the limited mobile calls within the SDCA.

In the 2:1 majority judgement, TDSAT said the task force should submit its report within next two months. “As long as the licensee keep the licence agreements service-specific and maintains a distinction between various services, namely the cellular mobile service and limited mobility services to be provided by the basic service operators, it is incumbent on the licensor (government) to ensure through specific and clear licensing conditions on the use of technology, interface, architecture, that such distinctions are maintained,” the order said.

“The order has cleared doubts, if any, in the minds of 40-lakh Reliance Infocomm customers. We expect a surge in customer base in the next few days. The order has also reiterated our contention that technological advancement cannot be stopped,” said Shanker Adwal, president of Reliance Infocomm Ltd.

Reliance Infocomm, Tata Indicom, Shyam Telecom, Himachal Futuristic Communications, Bharat Sanchar Nigam, and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam need not make any changes in their mobile switching centres as a result of this order. Till now about 92 mobile switching centres have been set up by these operators.

Commenting on the roaming facility that Reliance Infocomm offers its customers on its limited mobility phones and terms as multiple registrations, Adwal said, “We will continue to offer this facility. We are complying with the licence norms that stipulate that when a limited mobile subscriber moves from one SDCA to another there should be a drop of call. This aspect has been ensured. When a customer moves from one SDCA to another not only does the call drops they get a beep informing drop call and a short message service that provides a new number.”

Meanwhile, cellular operators said they are planning to approach the Supreme Court against today’s TDSAT order.

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