The next phase of the 4G spectrum auction in India seems to be heading for another delay due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The auction, which was scheduled for this month, yet to see any government’s cabinet note. The cabinet note is mandatory for the commendation of the spectrum base price and quantity that requires to be put below the mallet.
One needs to note that before any spectrum auction in India, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) issues a formal Notice Inviting Applications (NIA), inviting interested service providers to bid for the mobile services spectrum. The total procedure typically needs around 45 days to fill out before the actual auction starts.
This would be the second consecutive deferment of India’s 4G spectrum auctions, which includes seven bands in 22 circles. The radio waves for grabs include 700Mhz, 800Mhz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, and 2500 MHz bands. Earlier, the government intended to schedule the auction in March this year, but due to COVID-19 related restrictions, it had to postpone it to October.
The government has already pushed the auction of 5G spectrum in the 3300-3600 MHz band to 2021 due to telecom operators’ tight budgets and inability to meet the high reserve prices earmarked by India’s telecom sector regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
India is expecting to earn over INR 4 lakh crores from the auction.
Reliance Jio pushes for early 4G spectrum auction
India’s largest telecom operator, Reliance Jio, seems to be the only telecom operator who wants to speed up the 4G spectrum auction sale. Other telcos, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi), are in no rush and have indicated that they would be happy if the auction is delayed.
“We are unable to find any reasonable rationale behind this sudden pause in a successful and fruitful policy of auctioning all available spectrum every year, since the Supreme Court decision in 2012,” stated Reliance Jio in a letter addressed to DoT Secretary, last month.
The Mukesh Ambani led Jio to expand its infrastructure in India and has a big concern over the 4G spectrum auction delay in India because its airwaves license in the 800 MHz bands is expiring next year. The company, which uses the 800 MHz band of Anil Ambani’s insolvent company Reliance Communications, has recently raised over 1.50 lakh crores funding from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Silver Lake. (See: Jio driving digital shifts in the economy)
Jio is also adding a significant number of subscribers every month, and need more spectrum to provide quality 4G services throughout the nation. Its mobile-first approach has helped it gain a substantial footing in the market, and improved data adoption in India enormously. (See: The Jio ecosystem has begun to unfold)
In contrast, Airtel and VI are financially stressed and witnessing a big challenge in improving their market share. Though their spectrum license in the 1800 MHz band is also due for renewal in 2021, it is less expensive. Both the operators also have backup airwaves to support their subscribers, hence keen to streamline their financial budgets before participating in the 4G spectrum auction in India.