GSM body lobbies for Indian telcos in fight for dominance

Tags: News

Stable regulatory regime essential for industry to grow: Bouverot

London-based GSM Association (GSMA), a global body of GSM operators threw its weight behind its Indian counterparts led by Airtel, Idea and Vodafone in their fight with CDMA operators for dominance.

On the face of it, Anne Bouverot, director general and GSMA board member however insisted that the body would remain neutral and it would not take a position on the ongoing tussle between the CDMA operators (represented by Auspi) and the GSM operators (represented by COAI).

Bouverot has lined up meetings with all top telecom officials – including telecom minister Kapil Sibal, minister of state Milind Deora and telecom secretary R Chandras­hekhar. On Wednesday, she met telecom regulator Rahul Khullar and discussed issues related to harmonisation of spectrum, mergers and acquisitions.

These meetings assume significance in the backdrop of the recently concluded dampsquib 2G-spectrum auctions and the government’s insistence that it would re-auction all unsold spectrum before the end of this financial year.

On the latest tussle between GSM and CDMA camps on harmonising the GSM band in 900 Mhz to begin from 880 Mhz, Bouverot said GSMA supported harmonisation of all bands including the 700 Mhz band. “We are trying to focus on a few areas where we believe it will make a difference — harmonisation of 700 mhz is one of them. We will be pushing the Indian government on this,” she said.

Bouverot added that harmonised spectrum would enable firms to build on economies of scale by catering to the same spectrum bands across geographies rather than have different mobile phones for each country.

Surprisingly, Bouverot quoted figures from internal GSMA studies and said that the popular figures quoted in stories about India’s telecom market are not entirely accurate. While figures of over 900 million mobile connections represent a tele-density of approximately 70 per cent, the average Indian consumer owns 2.2 SIM cards against a global average of 1.5.

“This brings down the penetration of unique phone connections to 25 per cent (380 million phones) compared with a global average of 45 per cent. Clearly, there is room for growth,” she said adding that the challenge of getting more phones into the hands of people still existed.

On the recently concluded 2G-auctions, Bouverot said that it was telling that no new players came to the table. “There are issues on pricing, taxes, but most important is predictability of regulatory environment. With regulation that changes frequently, it is retroactive, it worries companies of all nationalities,” she said clearly hinting at Vodafone’s tussle with income tax department.

She added that for the market to stabilise, regulations had to stabilise, right regulatory environment and level of competition had to be introduced.

Bouverot maintained that data services and mobile money looked promising areas of growth for the future. “Affordable phones, correctly priced services and more awareness are needed for data to grow,” she said. GSMA predicts that the number of smartphones, currently at 35 million, will rise to 200-250 million by 2017.

sriramshankar@mydigitalfc.com

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