Three of India’s largest mobile network operators – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular – are understood to have signed agreements under which the trio will allow each other access to their respective 3G infrastructure, in effect allowing all three to offer pan-India third-generation services. According to the Hindu Business Line, with no one operator having bagged pan-India 3G spectrum in last year’s much-delayed auction, Vodafone is reported to have confirmed that it had ‘entered into a bilateral roaming agreement with Idea and Airtel in circles where we have not built our own 3G network.’ Airtel and Idea meanwhile have not officially confirmed any arrangement between the three operators, but Vodafone’s statement went on to claim that: ‘With this agreement, Vodafone/Airtel/Idea will bring a pan-India experience of 3G services to their customers.’
As noted in TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, all three cellcos won 3G concessions in May 2010, with Airtel walking away with licences to operate in the most circles – 13 – INR122.95 billion (USD2.66 billion), the most paid by any of the seven 3G auction winners. Idea and Vodafone meanwhile bagged spectrum for eleven and nine circles respectively, and for all three operators the regions they are licensed for are as follows:
Bharti Airtel: Delhi, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh (W), Rajasthan, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, North East, Jammu & Kashmir
Idea Cellular: Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (E), Uttar Pradesh (W), Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir
Vodafone Essar: Delhi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Calcutta, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (E), West Bengal.
Currently it is understood that Idea has introduced 3G services in the Delhi and Calcutta services in partnership with Vodafone, while Airtel is expected to partner with Idea for providing services in Karnataka. Having also started to offer 3G services in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala via Idea’s network, Vodafone is thought to be looking at Uttar Pradesh (West) as another circle where it could launch via Airtel’s network. For its part Airtel has already reportedly entered into intra-circle roaming agreements to share Idea’s 3G network in Gujarat.