NEW DELHI: Aircel is racing to work out intra-circle roaming pacts with other telcos to keep its network running to allow its users to port out to other operators if they wish to, after tower operator GTL Infrastructure disconnected about a third of the struggling carrier’s telecom sites in several circles.
In a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the carrier, majority owned by Malaysia’s Maxis, highlighted the ‘deep financial stress’ that it was going through amid a cash crunch, and requested the regulator to issue directions to all carriers and mobile number portability (MNP) providers to allot additional porting codes in circles where Aircel’s subscriber base is over 1 million. It also asked for the porting codes to be kept valid till 45 days, a month longer than the norm of 15 days. Trai Tuesday ordered the same.
Aircel’s letter and the regulator’s directive indicates that the beleaguered carrier, which had over 80 million subscribers in December, has run out of options to bring its operations out of troubled waters. It is dealing with a large debt pile of Rs 15,500 crore, a severe cash crunch as promoters have stopped funding and limited avenue of generating money to pay creditors as its subscriber base falls. Idea CellularBSE -0.77 % has already suspended interconnect with Aircel early this month, while Vodafone India has snapped interconnect for messages, STD and international mobile calls.
“Mls Aircel Group, vide their letter, referred to in para 3 above, has further informed that they have been severely impacted by their major Infra provider Mls GTL Infra who has turned off as much as one third of their total sites in different licensed service areas across the country and as an emergency measure, they are working out intra circle roaming arrangements with other telecom service providers to help their subscribers remain connected and opt for porting in case they choose to do so,” Trai said in its order.
It added that with the large number of porting requests for porting, the generation of unique porting codes has also been delayed due to capacity constraints in Aircel’s server and therefore, in order to help subscribers to port their mobile numbers into the network of their choice, the carrier has requested Trai to issue orders for allotting additional codes…; allow mobile number portability (MNP) to subscribers even if 90 days has not elapsed from the date of activation into the network – which is needed as per law; and extend validity of porting codes for upto 45 days, to enable smooth porting, the regulator said.
Further, it asked all operators to generate unique porting codes (UPCs) in 17 circles where the Chennai-headquartered company is still operational, and keep them valid till April 15. All carriers and MNP providers have been asked not to reject porting requests of mobile numbers active for less than three months on Aircel’s network.
“Furnish monthly subscriber-wise information of unspent balance amount for all the ported out prepaid subscribers, from February 27 till April 15,” Trai said in its directions to Aircel. “Furnish a compliance report by April 25, together with the number of subscribers successfully ported out,” the regulator added.
Having shut operations in six circles – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh (West) – in December last year, the company is expected to file for bankruptcy at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), sources say.
It had been in negotiations with lenders to restructure its debt, since September, but had failed to come to common ground. The debt restructuring program is now defunct after an RBI diktat early this month, leaving the company and its creditors lead by State Bank of India, a fight against time to come up with alternative plans to keep the company going.
But last week its chief executive officer Kaizad Heerjee in an email told employees to brace for “difficult” times amid “serious funding issues” in the face of intense competition.
“We have had no funding for some time and have been dependent on cash generation from our current business operations,” he said. Exits of two of its top executives followed this week.
Industry insiders added that the chances of intra-circle roaming pacts happening also look slim, consider that the agreements also involve monetary payments, which Aircel would find it difficult to do, considering it had not been able to make payments for interconnect services from other carriers. economictimes