IndiaWatch: 3G Delayed, 2G Adds 10M

India's Department of Telecommunications has delayed the 3G license auction by two weeks to January 30, following a request by a number of potential bidders for further time to prepare for the critical process.

The auction, details of which were first announced in August last year, had been due to start on January 16 but will now start a fortnight later. The final date for applications to take part in the auction is now January 5. A "mock auction" will take place on January 27 and 28. (See India Edges Closer to 3G.)

The delay will put the majority of India's 3G hopefuls that bit further behind state-owned carriers Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) , which has already launched its 3G service, and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) , which was handed its 3G spectrum early. (See IndiaWatch: Telenor Still Committed, MTNL Launches 3G, and A Guide to India's Telecom Operators.)

And it's possible the auction may be delayed further as, according to local reports, the country's finance ministry wants to double the reserve price for a national license to 40.4 billion Indian rupees (US$838 million). (See this report from The Hindu for details.)

Two days after the 3G auction finishes, the DoT will then auction the BWA (broadband wireless access) spectrum that will be deployed by WiMax service providers.

2G keeps on growing
As India's mobile operators plan their 3G strategies, their 2G customer bases keep growing at an astonishing rate.

According to the latest statistics from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) , India's wireless carriers added 10.35 million new lines during November 2008, taking the total number of mobile lines activated to 336.1 million. In October, 10.42 million new wireless lines were added. (See India Adds 10.4M Mobile Subs in October.)

Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) is the country's largest mobile operator with 82.9 million subscribers.

Reliance Communications Ltd. (RCom) is the second largest with 59.6 million, just ahead of Vodafone India with 58.8 million.

Reliance, though, is likely to extend its base significantly during 2009 as it has just switched on its national GSM network: Previously the operator offered GSM services in just eight of India's 23 circles, but it has now completed its nationwide GSM network rollout at a cost of IR100 billion ($2.07 billion). (See Reliance Launches National GSM, Reliance Gets GSM Nod, and Reliance Gets GSM Spectrum.)

Reliance claims its rollout, which includes EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) capabilities for faster mobile data speeds (up to 230 kbit/s, about four times faster than GPRS), is six months ahead of schedule.

Fixed in decline, but broadband grows
At the end of November India had 38.05 million fixed line connections (down 170,000 from a month earlier), giving the country a total of 374.13 million telephone connections for a teledensity of 32.3 percent.

The country gained 230,000 broadband subscribers during November, taking the total number of broadband lines (which includes any connection that runs at 256 kbit/s or faster) to nearly 5.3 million.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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