Free roaming across India could be in place by October 2013, after initial plans for a launch this month were postponed.
As quoted by The Times of India, Indian Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal announced the deadline but stopped short of providing an exact date. Telcos currently have to pay various fees like termination and interconnect charges to competing networks, which typically gets passed on to the consumer.
"TRAI has floated a consultation paper on [national free roaming]. So when Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) recommendations come and after that, we will try to start free roaming before October," he said.
In December 2012, TRAI sent out a pre-consultation paper in order to seek input and response from stakeholders on the free India roaming services.
In May 2012, the government of India approved the New Telecom Policy (NTP) 2012, thus eliminating roaming charges and allowing users to retain the same number across the country. Cleared by the Indian Union Cabinet, the government of India plans to remove roaming fees while allowing users to retain their numbers even if they move from one circle or zone to another, while also introducing the one nation, one rate concept.
This will obviously benefit mobile users as incoming calls will be free and outgoing calls be charged at the local rate.
However, for telecom providers, this also means the end of subscriber trunk dialling (STD) rates across states and carriers. The difference between local and STD calls would no longer be in effect, appealing to consumers travelling across India.
According to experts, the NTP will result in a loss of US$400 million for telecom providers and an additional US$600 million in roaming charges. Roaming charges alone make up 10 percent of the revenues for telecom providers.
Potential tariff hikes
Hence, telecom providers have opposed this plan and scheme since the beginning, claiming it will cause an increase in operating costs and result in an increase in tariffs to the consumer. Telecom providers currently enjoy full liberty over fixing mobile tariffs, including roaming charges, without any regulatory intervention.
With the free roaming facility coming into effect by October 2013, it is most likely that telecom providers would increase the tariffs to compensate their roaming revenues.
In addition to the October 2013 announcement, Sibal also launched the National Internet Registry (NIR). The NIR coordinates the allocation and management of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses with other Internet resources at the national level across India.
The function of the NIR is to reduce the cost of processing IP addresses, in addition to facilitating faster information for cybercrime investigations.