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Regulatory/Politics

India's 5G spectrum auction: Who's won what?

India's 5G spectrum auction has ended on the seventh day with spectrum worth 1.5 trillion Indian rupees (US$18.99 billion) being sold to the country's three mobile network operators – Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea – and Adani Group, with Jio emerging as the top bidder, according to media reports.

The belief that the bidding would be muted because of the abundant availability of spectrum and high reserve price seems to have been unfounded, as bidding lasted for a week and generated better than expected results, leading to the sale of 71% of the total available spectrum.

Of the four participants, Reliance Jio, India's largest service provider, was the top bidder.
 (Source: robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo)
Of the four participants, Reliance Jio, India's largest service provider, was the top bidder.
(Source: robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo)

This appears to be India's biggest spectrum auction ever, based on how much it has earned for the government. Through the auction of 3G spectrum and broadband wireless access (BWA) in 2010, the government garnered INR509.68 billion ($6.44 billion) and INR385.4 billion ($4.87 billion), respectively. During 2021's auction of 4G spectrum, the government earned INR778.15 billion ($9.83 billion).

Reliance Jio

Top bidder Reliance Jio, India's largest service provider, has invested INR880.78 billion ($11.15 billion) in acquiring spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 1800MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz frequency bands. Jio previously deposited INR140 billion ($1.77 billion), the maximum earnest amount.

The company has acquired 10MHz of the 700MHz frequency band in 22 circles (service areas). It claims to have the "highest amount of sub-GHz spectrum with at least 2x10 MHz contiguous spectrum in both 700MHz and 800MHz bands across all 22 circles," according to a press release issued by the company.

Jio has also acquired the "right to use 1,000MHz in the millimeter wave band (26GHz) in each of the 22 circles which will be crucial to enable enterprise use cases as well as provide high-quality streaming services."

"We will celebrate 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav' [India is celebrating 75th year of Independence] with a pan India 5G rollout," Akash Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Jio Infocomm, said in the statement. "Jio is committed to offering world-class, affordable 5G and 5G-enabled services. We will provide services, platforms and solutions that will accelerate India's digital revolution, especially in crucial sectors like Education, Healthcare, Agriculture, Manufacturing and e-Governance."

Airtel

India's second-largest service provider, Bharti Airtel, has spent INR430.84 billion ($5.45 billion) to acquire 19867MHz of spectrum across different frequency bands. Unlike Jio, Airtel has bypassed the 700MHz spectrum. The band remained unsold in the previous two auctions because of the high reserve price.

Airtel largely focused on the 3300MHz and 26GHz bands. Apart from that, the company has also bought spectrum in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz frequency bands to secure a pan India footprint. This makes a total of 2200MHz of spectrum in the 3300MHz band in all 22 circles.

"This spectrum acquisition at the latest auction has been a part of a deliberate strategy to buy the best spectrum assets at a substantially lower relative cost compared to our competition," Gopal Vittal, Managing Director and CEO at Bharti Airtel, said in a press statement. "This will allow us to raise the bar on innovation and address the emerging needs of every discerning customer who demands the best experience in India."

Airtel will start by launching services in key cities before expanding to all parts of the country.

Vodafone Idea

Vodafone Idea has spent INR187.84 billion ($2.37 billion). The company has focused on the 3300MHz and 26GHz spectrum bands in a few targeted circles.

"We have successfully acquired mid band 5G spectrum (3300 MHz band) in our 17 priority circles and mmWave 5G spectrum (26 GHz band) in 16 circles, which will enable us to offer 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," said a press release issued by Vodafone Idea.

Adani Group

The Adani Group, a multi-national business conglomerate that made a surprise entry in the auction through its subsidiary Adani Data Networks, purchased only 400MHz for just INR2.12 billion ($26.84 million). The quantity indicates that the spectrum will be mainly used for setting up 5G private networks for its ports, airports and other businesses across the country.


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— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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