Bharti Airtel cannot add new 3G customers in seven zones where it does not own the airwaves and offers the services through pacts with other carriers, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, pending a final ruling in the dispute.

Bharti can, however, continue 3G services in the zones for its existing customers, the court said, after hearing an appeal by India's top telecommunications carrier challenging a government ban on 3G pacts between carriers.

Thalaivas in Chennai and Coimbatore, Vanakkam!

How will this affect Airtel's customers?

Bharti, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular currently offer 3G services outside their licensed zones through pacts with each other as no carrier managed to win the airwaves for all of India in a 2010 auction. The telecommunications ministry says the pacts are illegal. It had asked the carriers to end the pacts immediately and also imposed penalties on them.

Last week, the telecom ministry asked Vodafone and Idea Cellular to stop 3G services outside their licensed zones and imposed penalty on both carriers in the dispute that has dragged on for more than a year. The orders followed a similar directive to Airtel last month, which the company was fighting in courts. Vodafone and Idea are also expected to challenge the government orders in the coming weeks.

The Department of Telecommunications has asked Vodafone India to pay a penalty of Rs 5.5 billion and Idea Cellular to pay about Rs 3 billion according to an earlier Reuters report.


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