India’s big three bid for extra spectrum

  • India’s three largest mobile operators are all involved in the country’s latest spectrum auction
  • Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are the only three bidders 
  • Spectrum is up for grabs in eight bands but with money tight, a bidding frenzy is not expected

A little later than originally expected, in the wake of the country’s recent general election, India’s government has kickstarted the latest spectrum auction and it’s being contested by the country’s three largest mobile operators – Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – though there are few expectations of fierce bidding wars or large amounts being spent.   

The government is auctioning more than 10.5 GHz of capacity spread across eight frequency bands that can be used for a range of services, including 5G: 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MHz, 2500MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz.The spectrum licences on offer have a combined reserve price of 962.4bn rupees ($11.53bn) but the expectation is that some of the capacity will not attract bids. 

That’s because the trio of operators, which between them command more than 92% of India’s mobile market that boasts a combined 1.17 billion cellular connections, are a bit short of funds. Jio and Airtel have spent billions on building out their national 5G networks, which are already up and running and attracting customers: Reliance Jio said in its most recent earnings report that it has 108 million 5G customers, while Bharti Airtel has 72 million 5G customers, according to research and analysis firm Opensignal.  

Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea is still getting its finances in order so it can steady its ship and start to invest in a 5G network to remain competitive with its two main rivals.  

According to sources who spoke with the Press Trust of India (PTI), bidding during the first day of the auction was focused on the 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2500MHz bands. 

The country’s previous spectrum auction, held in the summer of 2022, was India’s first 5G spectrum auction and generated more than 1.5 trillion rupees ($18bn) for the government from the nation’s three top mobile operators and newcomer Adani Group.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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