Record $19bn spectrum auction puts India on the 5G map

Yanitsa Boyadzhieva
By Yanitsa Boyadzhieva

Aug 3, 2022

  • The long-awaited 5G spectrum allocation has been completed in India
  • Proceeds raised by the government hit nearly $19bn 
  • Four players, including newcomer Adani Group, have acquired 5G frequencies, with Reliance Jio grabbing the largest slice of the pie
  • The 5G services are expected to kick off in October

India has finalised its much-anticipated 5G spectrum allocation, which has garnered almost 1.5 trillion Indian rupees ($19bn) from the nation’s three mobile operators and newcomer Adani Group, in a move that opens a new chapter for the country’s path towards digital transformation.

India’s minister for railways, communications, electronics and information technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw, announced the milestone via a Twitter post, adding that the move serves as a response to the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for reforms in the telecoms sector.

No further official information from the Indian authorities regarding the auction was available at the time of writing this article, but Reuters cited figures presented by Vaishnaw detailing participants’ spectrum purchases, according to which participants have purchased 71% of the 72GHz spectrum that was up for grabs via the process.

Reliance Jio

Most of the spectrum was acquired by Reliance Jio, which splashed a hefty $11bn to secure the right to use spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 1800MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz bands. As per the terms, Jio will use the spectrum for an initial 20-year period and will pay for it via equal annual instalments.

Following the move, the operator appears to be very ambitious about its future in the 5G era, noting in a statement that its goal is to build “the world’s most advanced 5G network”. Furthermore, its next-generation network is seen by the company as an enabler of new digital solutions that “will accelerate India’s AI-driven march towards becoming a $5tn+ economy”.

Jio also pledged to make pricing affordable to ensure that “every Indian gets to access the most transformative digital services and platforms offered anywhere in the world”.

The operator is also “fully ready” to deploy 5G in “the shortest” period of time, and its chairman, Akash Ambani, announced that the operator will offer services and platforms that accelerate India’s digitalisation of “crucial” sectors, such as education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and e-governance.

Bharti Airtel

Bharti Airtel also plans to lead “India’s 5G revolution” after acquiring 19,800MHz spectrum for 20 years, which it said will secure it a pan-India footprint of 3.5GHz and 26GHz bands. For the “massive spectrum bank”, it has set aside $5.4bn, making it the second-top spender in the auction.

The company claimed it is “well-positioned to usher in” the 5G era in India due to having “the widest mobile broadband footprint” across the nation. It also pointed to experience in testing 5G use cases in several locations recently and, with this, creating “a vibrant ecosystem of partners” to back quicker adoption of next-generation technologies.

Speaking of collaboration, today Bharti Airtel announced it has selected Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung as its vendors to assist with its 5G network deployment, which is set to start this month. The telco explained that having multiple partners for the network buildout will enable it to roll out 5G services “spanning ultra-high-speeds, low latency and large data-handling capabilities, which will enable a superior user experience and allow the pursuit of new, innovative use cases with enterprise and industry customers”.

Vodafone Idea

Vodafone Idea (Vi) has secured mid-band 5G spectrum (3.3GHz) and mmWave 5G spectrum (26GHz), committing nearly $2.4bn for the purpose. The company noted that this will allow it to provide “a superior 5G experience to our customers as well as strengthen our enterprise offerings and provide new opportunities for business growth in the emerging 5G era”. It also unveiled plans to collaborate with enterprise customers and partners on developing 5G use cases for real-world deployments, as well as to continue investing in its “future-ready” network, to bring the rollout of 5G services into fruition.

Adani Group

New entrant Adani Group, headed by billionaire Gautam Adani, has set aside almost $27m to acquire spectrum, which it aims to use to build private networks for enterprises. The company was late to the party, unveiling plans to bid for 5G spectrum a month prior to the auction – see Adani Group rattles India’s 5G cage.

Local media New Delhi Television (NDTV) reported that the government expects 5G services to be launched in October this year.

The auction was reportedly delayed by India’s officials last year to give telcos more time for 5G trials.

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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