Indian telcos shun expensive 5G spectrum in auction


India’s latest spectrum auction ended after two days of bidding, raising a reported US$10.6 billion for the government, but the 5G-suitable 700MHz band was left untouched because it is too expensive. 

The Economic Times of India (ET) reported the final figure, while Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea released separate statements to the Indian stock exchange confirming the auction had come to an end.

Bharti Airtel said it committed a total of INR187 billion on 355.45MHz of spectrum in sub-GHz, mid- and 2300MHz bands, which it said gave it “the most formidable spectrum holdings in the country”.

It explained that sub-GHz would help it to improve deep indoor coverage in urban environments, while strengthening its mid-band holdings, helping it to deliver 5G in the future.

Vodafone Idea did not reveal exact details, only stating it had bought spectrum in five circles to help further accelerate 4G coverage and capacity.

No takers
ET reported the pair and Reliance Jio had mostly bought spectrum to renew permits due to expire in July.

However, spectrum in the 700MHz band found no takers, similar to the country’s auction in 2016.

Airtel explained the band “did not get any bid from the operators as it made no economic sense for them based on the high reserve price”.

It added 700MHz, coupled with 3.5GHz, had the potential to accelerate “India’s progress to the top league of digitally-enabled nations, therefore the reserve pricing of these bands must be addressed on priority in the future”.

Vodafone Idea said as the industry readies 5G in India, it was hopeful a “large quantum of spectrum in harmonised bands” would be made available to operators at fair prices.


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