IndiaWatch: Hold-Ups & Hangovers

If there's one thing that India's telecom operators can be sure of, it's that even the best laid plans never run smoothly.

Number portability stalls
India's Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has extended the deadline for the introduction of number portability services until the end of the year.

Citing the complexity of implementation, the DoT says number portability in the big urban metro circles and high population 'A' circles must now be made available by Dec. 31, 2009.

Syniverse Technologies LLC and Telcordia Technologies Inc. , in the form of its local joint venture company, MNP Interconnection Telecom Solutions India Pvt, won contracts with the DoT to implement the services at the beginning of March. At that time, the government said that services would be available in the metros by June and in six months in the A circles. (See AsiaWatch: India Preps Number Portability.)

MNP previously told Light Reading Asia that it would invest whatever it took to deliver on time. But it seems that wasn't enough -- or perhaps it's facing resistance from operators not keen on the idea of potential rampant customer churn.

Telcos shun MTNL's 3G offer
Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) , India's state-run telco that operates solely in Mumbai and Delhi, has received only two bids in response to its tender for a franchisee to run its 3G operations, according to this Economic Times report.

When the extensive tender was issued a month ago, all the talk was that international giants, such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), would likely apply. However, as Light Reading Asia previously suggested, the respondents were few, and only India's Spice Telecom and established MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) Virgin Mobile Telecoms Ltd. tabled bids before today's deadline. (See MTNL Seeks 3G International Rescue.)

These bids are now being assessed for technical compliance. Should they not meet MTNL's requirements, the operator will be left with an ever-more-embarrassing 3G failure. Should they be compliant, questions about why MTNL couldn't make a success of 3G in two of the country's biggest and richest areas will remain, especially as it has the advantage of an extensive lead time over the private companies that are still waiting for the 3G spectrum auctions.

The tender was overrun with conditions that would make any telco think twice, especially one that intends to run its own 3G services as soon as spectrum is auctioned. Therefore, it remains much more likely that AT&T and other major foreign telcos will attempt to enter the Indian mobile market through the auction process, whenever it may be. (See India Sets 3G Spectrum Price.)

Telenor kept waiting -- again
Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN)'s application to increase its stake in Unitech Wireless is now with the Indian cabinet for approval following the Foreign Investment Promotion Board's decision to hand over the matter.

Telenor already holds a 49 percent share in the Indian new entrant and has approval to increase this to 67.35 percent. The companies have agreed to increase this further to 74 percent, but that needs government approval. Telenor will now have to wait on the cabinet as the value of the deal exceeds the level the Foreign Investment board is able to clear. (See Ops Left Holding Cash.)

It should just be another rubber stamp for Telenor, but the referral does open the door for more discussions about the relevance or otherwise of the Norwegian company's operations in Pakistan.

Check out this Reuters report for more.

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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