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Calling Quits - TTSL exits COAI

July 15, 2010
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Ayear after Reliance Communications (RCOM) exited the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) accusing the latter of only serving the interests of large GSM players, Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL) has also given up its membership of the GSM body on similar grounds.

Stating that the association functioned in a biased, undemocratic, non-transparent and unethical manner, TTSL, in a letter to COAI, said, "COAI is not a transparent association and represents the views of only a few old players, as all powers/rights are vested in their hands."

TTSL joined COAI in early 2008 after obtaining a pan-Indian GSM licence. However, it claims that the voting power at COAI was more or less in the hands of three operators -­ Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular -­ while the other 8-10 members had virtually no role to play.

A rift between TTSL and COAI became apparent after COAI withdrew the operator's voting rights, along with those of Etisalat DB and Loop Telecom, citing non-payment of dues. However, TTSL claims to have paid all membership and subscription dues to COAI and had only declined to share legal expenses for cases filed by COAI against TTSL, or if TTSL had refused to become a party to the case. The operator has accused the body of being biased towards leading GSM players on key issues like reduction of interconnection charges and the national numbering plan.

COAI director general Rajan Mathews has refuted these allegations, saying, "COAI is a very transparent organisation.TTSL was well aware of our voting system, which, like that of the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, is based on revenues."

According to Mathews, the problem lies elsewhere. "TTSL has chosen two technologies, CDMA and GSM, and is a member of two associations which have conflicting interests. Unlike operators like RCOM, which went for a membership with the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India, and Bharti Airtel, which is a member of COAI, TTSL was a member of both associations," he says.

However, one of the probable reasons for this fall out seems to be the presence of multiple interest groups within COAI.One group consists of GSM players with a pan-Indian presence and a big market share. These include Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular. Another group consists of companies like RCOM and TTSL, which started operations on the CDMA platform and later entered the GSM segment. New entrants in the wireless space like Sistema Shyam TeleServices Limited and Uninor comprise the third group . With the existence of these diverse groups within the association, reaching a consensus on any issue would expectedly be an uphill task.

TTSL's exit means that COAI is no longer associated with any dual-technology licensee. Meanwhile, there has been talk about the formation of another association to serve the interests of companies that feel left out in terms of representation in COAI. If this happens, more players are expected to follow in TTSL and RCOM's footsteps and drift away from the GSM association.

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