The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recently recommended that all mobile operators open their networks to roaming customers from other service providers after the introduction of thirdgeneration (3G) mobile services to India. If TRAI’s recommendation is accepted by India’s Department of Telecommunications (DOT), India would be the first developing country to have mandatory roaming. Roaming is typically governed by mutual agreements among operators. TRAI, which has been studying the allotment and pricing of 3G spectrum in India, has determined that, in addition to existing GSM and CDMA mobile operators, many non-telecom and non-Indian companies will bid for 3G spectrum, when it becomes available. Additionally, TRAI has recommended that relatively few companies should be able to obtain 3G spectrum, and since it will not be possible for these companies to rapidly deploy their services on a pan-India basis, their customers will have to rely on the 2G networks of existing operators when roaming.

If TRAI’s recommendation is implemented, private cellular operators in India will be the biggest beneficiaries, as they will be able to roam on the exclusive networks of state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL). BSNL is the only telecom operator in India that does not share its infrastructure. Many private operators are demanding that BSNL be required to share its nationwide network on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, with those terms being regulated by TRAI. TRAI endorses that demand.

Because DOT has approved most of TRAI’s endorsements on the allocation of 3G spectrum, it is expected that mandatory roaming and interconnection with BSNL’s networks will be adopted. With just over 40 MHz of 3G spectrum to be made available this summer after being vacated by the Air Force, TRAI has recommended that this spectrum be limited to just four players, through a competitive bidding process. India’s 3G auction is expected to be held by year’s end.