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Cell phone industry: regulations causing concern

Special Correspondent
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Local bodies urged to encourage tower sharing

Vikram Tiwathia— Photo:Special Arrangement
Vikram Tiwathia— Photo:Special Arrangement

“Cell phone service providers, who initially saw an encouraging climate from the government was now reeling under penalty oriented regulatory climate,” Associate Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India Vikram Tiwathia said on Friday.

Talking to The Hindu on the challenges and issues confronting the cellular telecom operators, Mr. Tiwathia said frequent changes in rules governing the industry was actually forcing the investors to revisit or make them re-think on the investment in this segment.

Mr. Tiwathia also reiterated the need for revisiting the spectrum availability and pricing mechanism, as the industry was already reeling under Rs. 2 lakh crore debt in terms of investments borrowed.

On the initiative for infrastructure sharing i.e., the Base Transmission Station (BTS) towers by more than one operator, the Associate Director General said that this was expected to bring down the CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) and an improvement in Revenue Per User (RPU) will augur well in the long run. Sharing of infrastructure had reached a tenancy ratio of two (number of operators on one infrastructure) in terms of three cellular service providers and 1.5 in terms of industry-wise tenancy ratio.

He wanted the local bodies to encourage tower sharing. He said in countries such as China every tower is connected with optic fibre cable reducing radiation emission, while the right of way charges for laying OFC cables were high in India, deterring the operators.

On the other hand, the ‘misinformation’ campaign about Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) radiation caused by towers for cell phone signals, Mr. Tiwathia said that the Indian example had been replicated in Bangladesh and Africa.

Radiation

Mr. Tiwathia said that there were many gadgets that emit close to 10,000 to 20,000 watts of radiation such as television transmission and radio transmission whereas microwave and police wireless emit closer to 1000 watts and 20 to 50 watts while mobile phone systems emit only 10 to 20 watts and mobile phones emitted only 2 watts.

To theories about declining sparrow and bee population, the Associate Director General said pigeons and urbanisation were enemies of sparrows besides increased use of pesticides and falling population of insects led to dwindling sparrow population.

In the event of dissatisfaction in quality of service provided or in radiation emission levels, any member of the public could seek the help of TERM Cell (Telecom Enforcement and Resource Monitoring) in various locations across the country and such a facility existed in Chennai.

He claimed that operators were sincere to quality of service in terms of signal stretch and call drops, but cost of strengthening the network in terms of right of way charges and red-tapism in permission was a deterrent factor.

To a query, he claimed that there was enhanced transparency in billing among the service providers today and on the Value Added Service (VAS) front, complaints that existed once when there was external management have now been sorted out, with internal control mechanisms in place now.

As far as cellular phone penetration was concerned, there were more than 930 million subscribers in Home Location Register and closer to 700 million subscribers in Visitors Location Register (Active users).

Revenue Per User as on date was approximately Rs 70 per connection on GSM technology platform, while it was Rs 50 on CDMA technology platform, he said.

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