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Bharti Airtel criticised the government’s decision to disallow 3G services roaming agreements among carriers and said it would impact much-needed investments in the sector.

The decision is a blow to Bharti Airtel, Vodafone’s India unit and Idea Cellular, three of the country’s top four carriers, which currently provide 3G services beyond their licenced zones through roaming pacts.

The move adds to uncertainties in the once-booming sector, which is being hurt by fierce competition as well as a probe into a massive telecom licensing scandal.

“The reverse stance taken by the DoT [Department of Telecommunications] from its earlier stated position sends a wrong signal, not only within the telecom industry but to the entire business community,” Bharti said in a statement on Friday.

It said the decision was “arbitrary” and “illegal,” adding the company would take appropriate action to protect its rights.

A telecom tribunal is expected to hear the operators’ plea on Saturday, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The government sold 3G airwaves in an auction last year that attracted much higher bids than expected, and no single company managed to get spectrum in all of the country’s 22 zones.

India raised $13 billion in the 3G auction, and is in the process of overhauling its decade-old telecom rules but there is little clarity on key issues, including pricing of second-generation spectrum and mergers and acquisitions.

Operators launched 3G services earlier this year and are currently expanding networks, but the take-up for the premium services, which facilitate faster Internet browsing on mobile phones and services such as video calls, has been slower than expected.

On Friday, Bharti shares closed 1.8% lower, while Idea ended down 3.6%, extending their losses for the second straight session.

Source By Business Standard

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