Telecom users to wait more to enjoy free domestic roaming

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New Delhi, Oct 18: India's mobile phone customers may have to wait for some more time to enjoy the free nationwide roaming service despite it was declared by Telecom Department on their interest to push through with this populist move. The service was announced in the National Telecom Policy 2011 last week by Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal.

Free domestic roaming is a mandatory norm worldwide. Countries like the US, Canada, France, Germany and England already have it. But, in India, service providers are expected to oppose the government move citing adverse financial implications for them.

According to independent telecom consultants, it will be a hit of Rs. 2,000 crore for the industry. But Ranjan Mathews, Director General of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a mobile phone operators representative body claimed roaming revenues at 8% to 10% of total telecom revenues. As far the Trai's AGR (adjusted gross revenue) record claimed that Rs 1,53,489 crore for 2011-12, foregoing domestic roaming charges would then translate into a hit of Rs 12,279 crore to Rs 15,349 crore.

Although, Mathews claimed that the free roaming is a global phenomenon and it can not be rejected in India. He also said that some of roaming revenue loss will be offset by increased usage (minutes) and volumes (subscribers) and finally leading to more manageable net loss of 2% to 3% or Rs 4,600 crore.

Some telecom analysts said that the free roaming would only benefit around 5%-7% of India's travelling populations while 90% of the subscribers would have to fill in the revenue shortfall by paying higher tariff. Apart from financial issues, the free national roaming requires serious regulatory and technical reconciliation as well. However, right now TRAI has decided to examine the matter thoroughly before passing an order on nationwide free raoming for mobile phone customers.

Meanwhile, an official from TRAI said that mobile operators need to balance the benefits of free roaming against the potential increase in costs of local charges. The telecom operators are expected to implement the service over next six months to eight months.

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