NEW DELHI: India's telecom operators on Saturday won a reprieve from a government order that they end "illegal" mutual roaming agreements to provide seamless nationwide 3G services, a report said.
The country's telecom tribunal called for a stay on the order until a hearing on January 3, amid an ongoing battle pitting Delhi against the nation's biggest mobile operators.
The pacts that let the operators offer 3G services outside their licensed zones are "in violation of terms and conditions of their licences," the top bureaucrat in the telecom ministry said this week.
But the tribunal's Justice S.B. Sinha ordered that the government "not take any coercive actions against these operators to enforce the order of December 23, 2011," according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
On Friday, India's telecom ministry ordered leading operators including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular to scrap the roaming pacts.
There was no immediate reaction to the stay order from the mobile phone operators, who had approached the tribunal.
In an earlier statement released late Friday, Vodafone India called the government's order "completely unreasonable."
"We will take suitable course of action to protect our and our consumers' interest," the company said.
Third generation, or 3G, allows mobile phone users to surf the Internet, video conference and download music, video and other content at a fast pace.
The Indian government reaped $15 billion from auctioning 3G licences last year. None of the major operators managed to get bandwidth in every one of India's telecom service areas.
Indian telecom companies currently generate only small revenues from data services but they expect the market to grow exponentially as less than 10 percent of the 1.2 billion population has access to Internet at the moment.
India has some 881.4 million mobile and 33.2 million fixed-line subscribers with total teledensity -- the number of telephones per 100 people -- standing at 76, latest government data shows, up from 2.5 in 2000. AGENCIES