The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has directed telecom operator Aircel to issue additional unique porting codes to allow its subscribers the facility to switch service providers. The company has also filed for bankruptcy in the National Companies Law Tribunal, as earlier reported in the media.
TRAI has also allowed porting of numbers before an otherwise mandatory 90-day period after activation. In the directive, the authority asked Aircel to comply with the order by April 25. It has also asked the company to provide the size of its prepaid and postpaid subscriber base, along with unspent balance details of all the numbers.
The order comes after Aircel Group wrote to TRAI saying it was “undergoing deep financial stress”. Notably, Aircel closed operations in six circles by January 31. Telecom tower company GTL Infra, that provides infrastructure to Aircel, has also turned off one-third of their total sites in different areas across the country. As an emergency measure, Aircel is working out intra-circle roaming arrangements with other telecom service providers so subscribers can remain connected or opt for porting.
Interestingly, the Department of Telecommunications had told the Supreme Court, in February last year, that asking Aircel customers to port out was not feasible.
“Post detailed discussions with the financial lenders and shareholders, the company could not reach consensus with respect to restructuring of its debt and funding,” Aircel reportedly said in a statement. The company had 85 million subscribers as of December end.
Before the company filed for bankruptcy, its Malaysian parent Maxis had proposed a cash infusion to support the debt-laden company. In January 2018, Aircel had tried to enter a strategic debt restructuring (SDR) process where lenders led by State Bank of India agreed to take shares in Aircel to replace their loans and recover their dues in an eventual sale of assets of the company. However, no agreement could be reached.
In April 2017, the company had initiated talks for a merger with Reliance Communications. However, delays in approvals and a Supreme Court order preventing a sale of Aircel’s spectrum stopped the merger.
After Reliance Jio’s disruptive launch in September 2016, Aircel is the fourth company to run in financial trouble. Now, the mobile telecom business in the country could be left with only 3 major private players, Vodafone and Idea are also set to merge. Norway-based Telenor is transferring its assets to Bharti Airtel for almost no charge. Bharti Airtel is also taking over the wireless business of Tata Teleservices.