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“Network closure not permitted without surrendering license”: TRAI to Videocon

India’s telecom regulator TRAI clarified (pdf) that Videocon cannot shut down operations in Punjab circle since the telco will have to surrender its Unified Access Service (UAS) license to carry out a network closure. The regulator instead directed Videocon to “comply with all the provisions of the Unified Access Service License, ensure continuity of service to its subscribers and maintain the quality of service till its license is operational.”

Under existing license regulations (in UAS), a telecom company can shut down services only if the license is surrendered or is terminated or suspended. “Since none of these eventualities have occurred in the instant case, the conditions of UASL do not permit  Quadrant Televentures to discontinue its commercial services,” TRAI added. Videocon’s mobile network operations in Punjab is owned and managed by a subsidiary company named Quadrant Televentures, which also runs the “Connect Broadband” fixed line service in Punjab.

In a letter to TRAI last month, Quadrant mentioned that it’s “unable to surrender” UAL license since it operates fixed line broadband service under the same license, which is valid until 30th September 2017. “We have accordingly informed the DoT regarding the closure of only the GSM mobile services and not any other telecom services,” the company added. Apart from this, the company also sought special permission from DoT to waive the 90-days lock-in period for new customers looking to port out of the network.

Videocon announced the closure of its service (in Punjab) in January and also requested existing customers in the circle to port out to a different network before Feb 15th. Quadrant had 29.78 lakh subscribers in Punjab circle as of October 2016. However, it seems like the company is now stuck in limbo since TRAI has clarified that partial closure of services isn’t permitted. It is not clear whether the telco has approached the Telecom Disputes Settlement And Appellate Tribunal (special court of telecom cases) for legal relief. A spokesperson from Quadrant refused to provide any comments for the story when MediaNama contacted.

Videocon said it would re-launch via MVNO route

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Videocon currently has operations in states like Haryana and Madhya Pradesh apart from Punjab, but its operations have been at a standstill. It earlier planned to expand operations within Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in 2015, but this did not go through. The company announced in September last year that it would instead use the MNVNO route to launch 3G/4G operations in the country. It also sold its 1800MHz spectrum in 6 circles to Bharti Airtel for about Rs 4428 crore in May last year.

A major part of Videocon’s struggle to continue in the telecom industry is due to the lack of 4G spectrum. In December 2015  the company had deferred 4G plans citing ‘poor acceptability of the service’ launched by other telcos. But Videocon’s speculations were proved wrong after the launch of Reliance Jio last year which currently has 4G operations in 22 circles. To keep up with the competition, Airtel expanded 4G in 21 circles, Idea is expanding 4G in 17 circles while Vodafone expanded to 17 circles.

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