Bharti Airtel not prepared, 3G rollout to get delayed

The uncertainty over the future of 3G video calls and its own network under-preparedness is likely to delay the launch of 3G services of India’s biggest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel well into the next year, according to a company executive.

“The network is not yet ready as testing is currently on and besides, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has to grant approval for the start of 3G video calling services. We do not want to offer 3G services to our customers in bits and pieces,” disclosed the official who declined to be named.

Bharti Airtel had earlier announced in October that it would launch its 3G services before the end of the current calendar year. Two private sector telecom companies, Tata Teleservices (TTSL) and Reliance Communications (RCom) have already announced the launch of their 3G services in select circles.

State owned telcos, Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam (MTNL) were allowed to launch their 3G services in 2008 to give them a headstart against private sector competition. Bharti Airtel, which bagged spectrum across 13 circles for 3G services _ auction for which was held earlier this year — is also expected to follow a similar launch strategy. BSNL and MNTL have no restriction on video calls.

“We will be launching in certain circles first, as did the other operators rather than simultaneous rollout across all the circles where we have spectrum,” said the official. No private sector telecom operator won a pan-India licence for 3G spectrum at the auction. Bharti Airtel had paid Rs 12,296 crore as licence fee for the 3G spectrum.

The company has also tied up with Nokia Siemens Network (NSN) and Ericsson for deployment of high speed packet access (HSPA) network for its 3G rollout in India. For Bangladesh, Bharti Airtel is relying on Huawei for its 3G rollout, said the official. It takes about three to six months for testing of telecom equipment to be completed.

The DoT has withheld its approval for allowing video calls over 3G networks to the private sector operators, following concerns expressed by law enforcement agencies over lack of real time interception facilities for video calls. Telecom companies have said that technology for real time interception of video calls was still under development and could take up to six months for deployment across the entire network.

The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is to take a final decision on allowing video calls till such time as real time interception facilities are available and convey it to the DoT which will then issue the necessary approval to the telcos. Currently, only BSNL and MTNL offer video calls to their subscribers while the two private sector telcos — TTSL and RCom — have yet to be granted approval.

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