New Delhi: In some relief to mobile operators, telecom tribunal TDSAT on Saturday directed the government not to take any "coercive" action against three telecom firms over inter-circle roaming (ICR) agreement on 3G till January 3.

The Telecom Ministry had issued notices to Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea asking them to stop ICR for premium 3G mobile services as it was termed illegal and in violation of licence norms.

"Till next date of hearing, respondent (DoT) would not take any coercive actions against these operators to enforce the order of December 23, 2011," TDSAT Bench headed by its
Chairperson Justice S B Sinha said.

These three operators along with two others (Tatas and Aircel) had moved TDSAT, which held special hearing on Saturday and stayed DoT's decision till January 3, 2012. It issued notices to Telecom Ministry asking them to file their response by next week.

Representing Vodafone, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the operators were not issued any show cause and not given a chance to be heard. They (DoT) have failed to follow the minimal parameters of "good governance".

The order was completely "arbitrary and illegal", Singhvi said adding that under the Unified Access Services License (UASL), the operators are free to offer various types of services like voice, messaging and data.

Saying that 2G and 3G are just different technologies, Singhvi said the present licence terms doesn't bar the operators from offering ICR.

Additional Solicitor General A S Chandioke, appearing for DoT, submitted that the telecom firms need separate licence for 3G spectrum as a new clause was inserted in the licence conditions of the operators who have got 3G bandwidth.

On Friday, the Department of Telecom (DoT) had issued notices to the telecom firms saying their pacts are illegal and sought their response within 24 hours. The service providers moved TDSAT.

Leading operators like Bharti, Vodafone and Idea had entered into agreement with one another to offer 3G mobile services in circles in which they had not succeeded in getting spectrum, for which the auction was held last year.

Similar notices were issued to Tata Teleservices and Aircel, which had also entered into similar agreements to offer services in six circles. However, the two operators have already discontinued the arrangement.

In response to the notice, the operators had come out strongly on the issue. Telecom giants Bharti Airtel and Vodafone had said they will take appropriate recourse to protect their rights.

It is difficult to ascertain as to how many subscribers will be impacted by the decision because no subscriber data is available yet for the recently launched 3G services.