Spectrum War

Spectrum War for Telecom Services is in News Again as we Move into the Next Generation Network – 4g!

Over the past two decades, the Telecom sector in India has emerged as a highly competitive and lucrative sector. In the initial phase of the sector’s growth, telecom operators were seen competing for increasing their tele-densities. However, with the advent of next-gen telecom platforms such as 3G and 4G, the dimensions of competition amongst the telecom players have taken a different turn.

The strategy now seems to be that of offering innovative applications such as music/movie downloads, video chats etc. which can be bundled on to the networks and delivered to the subscribers on their hi-tech mobile handsets.

Given this fast progressing scenario, for a successful run in the telecom industry, obtaining spectrum licenses was identied to be the key. It is with this background that the competition concerns in the telecom sector will be analyzed.


The telecom sector, although highly competitive, is not one which is free from competition concerns

– there are advantages for some dominant players and disadvantages to the smaller players. Before looking into the competition issues, it is important to note that the aim of Competition Law is not to discourage dominance. It is only when dominance is abused that the law hammer down such dominance. Thus, while fair competition is protected and encouraged, unfair competition will be punished.

This being the case, let’s see the moves made by the major players of India ­

 In this regard, it is important to note who were the successful bidders in the 2010 spectrum auction ­

3G – Airtel, Aircel, Idea, Reliance Communications, S Tel, Tata Teleservices, Vodafone India.

Broadband Wireless/BWA – RIL, Qualcomm, Airtel, Aircel, Tikona Digital and Augere.

Out of the total sixteen Unified Access Service (UAS) Licensees, each operating in few circles / states-Vodafone Essar, Bharti Airtel, Aircel& Reliance Communications have operations in most parts of the country.



Rapidly expanding both its international and domestic network and infrastructure.

Expanding the footprint of its high-speed Internet services, likely to launch by September fourth generation (4G) services in Delhi, which is one of the lucrative data markets in the country.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm ( RJI’s ) was recently allowed entry into mobile telephony when the Telecom Commission permitted 4G spectrum holders to offer voice calls. The service comes under its Universal Access Service ( UAS ) license by paying additional fee of Rs 1,658 crore. It is expected  to roll out 4G services in Delhi and Mumbai after the perpetual backbone fiber lease deal with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications worth 1,200 crore.

Already offers 4G services in Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune and Chandigarh, has roped in Chinese equipment maker Huawei to build and operate the 4G network in Delhi.

RJI has already signed an agreement with Bharti Airtel Ltd to use international capacity on its i2i submarine cable that links India and Singapore, (Bharti also cooperates with other countries in major cable systems, and has links the world over).

RIL has also entered into contracts with Ericcson, Samsung, IBM, and Microsoft for building networks, providing security solutions and for IT integration.


In these circumstances, the prospects for Competitive pressures across various services are clearly enhanced.  RJI with a pan-India license could emerge as the market leader and game changer in the 4G services it offers.

The 3G players are operating in circles across the country with a tight rope walk. Every circle/state has 4-5 operators. In this context, it is likely to be a tight oligopoly rather than a monopoly.

The emerging concern is whether a small number of existing operators would find it to their advantage, acting either unilaterally or collusively, to hoard spectrum or to engage in the contracting of unneeded spectrum, as a means of creating a barrier to entry for newcomers or rivals who want to expand”.

Telcos that lost out in the race for 3G airwaves may explore the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) route or franchisee deals with 3G operators.

Experts say even operators who won the 3G airwaves will be compelled to enter into such deals to ensure a pan-India rollout of their 3G services.

However, taking a cue from other jurisdictions might be of relevance. In EU, Mobile Network Operators have exercised joint dominance (exhibited tacit collusion) by refusing to enter into the mobile virtual network operator MVNO agreements. As more spectrums become tradable and subject to varied usage and as restrictions on technology diminish, blocking entry or expansion becomes more expensive. All the above may hinder effective competition in the telecom sector.


Airtel & Vodafone for Apple’s iPhone

Complaint filed by an individual – Airtel and Vodafone abused their dominant market positions to get exclusive selling rights for undisclosed number of years in vertical agreements with Apple – iPhones sold by Vodafone and Airtel were compulsorily locked – would work only on their respective networks and none other.

CCI’s Finding

  • Apple Inc, Apple India, Vodafone and Bharat Airtel not dominant in their respective relevant market .­
  • No operator has more than 35 percent market share in an otherwise competitive mobile network service market.
  • No restriction on consumers to use the network services of Vodafone and Airtel.

Therefore, No appreciable adverse effect on competition in the market of smart-phones and/or mobile service could be established.


Shreyas Bhushan, a IV year law student at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Cochin (NUALS).

Saagar Gaikwad, Student at Symbiosis International University, Pune.


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