The eight-member committee set up to look into new subscriber-base norms for spectrum allocation has left it to the Department of Telecom to consider either the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or Telecom Engineering Centre, DoT's technical wing.
The decision to refer the issue to DoT was taken following serious differences among committee members.
Independent experts like Bhaskar Ramamurthi from IIT Madras and Ajit Kumar Chaturvedi from IIT Kanpur said TRAI's recommendations should be accepted.
A K Srivastava, deputy director general, DoT, suggested that TEC recommendations should be considered for GSM operators and TRAI's for operators of the rival CDMA technology.
Either way, the move is bad news for GSM operators, since both TRAI and TEC recommendations raised the minimum number of subscribers significantly for them to qualify for additional spectrum from the government.
TRAI had recommended a doubling to four-fold increase in the qualifying criterion. TEC had gone one step forward by suggesting that the regulator's recommendations should be doubled.
Should DoT choose either recommendation, most of the current GSM operators will not be entitled to fresh spectrum allocations and might take a while to reach the higher criterion.
Operators of GSM services, which account for the bulk of mobile services in India, had strongly opposed any move to raise the qualifying criterion.
T V Ramachandran, director-general of the GSM lobby Cellular Operators Association of India, had already withdrawn from the committee saying that it was not sticking to its terms of reference.
The other members in the committee headed by DoT Additional Secretary R Bandhyopadhyay also included representatives from CDMA lobby AUSPI and C-DoT, the government's technology development arm.
The committee, however, has highlighted the need to consider an alternative to the subscriber-based criterion that could be a combination of auction and subscriber linkage.
It has suggested granting a minimum allotment to an operator with the licence (currently 6.2 Mhz for GSM and 5 Mhz for CDMA) and auctioning the remaining spectrum.
The committee's alternative suggestion is to fix a minimum subscriber base criterion that would make an operator eligible for auction of an incremental chunk of spectrum.
The committee, however, has also recommended setting up a technical panel to suggest alternative allocation criteria.
The report also said the subscriber-base criterion has been significantly exceeded by operators without additional spectrum allocation in less dense areas.
Therefore, it is possible for subscriber growth to continue in these areas without further allocation of spectrum.
The committee has also suggested that instead of offering spectrum in chunks of 1.8-2.4 Mhz for GSM operators and 1.25 for CDMA, DoT should consider an incremental allotment of 1 MHz.