Monday 8 March 2021

India Auctions 4G (and 5G) Spectrum

The Indian Department of Telecommunications (DoT), part of Ministry of Communication just concluded a spectrum auction. The detailed results for anyone interested is available here. As the spectrum allocation happens on a regional level rather than national level, it may be a bit confusing to understand for the outsiders.

'India sells spectrum worth $10.6B in two-day auction', nicely put by Light Reading

While the telcos acquired spectrum in several bands, the 700MHz spectrum remained unsold because of the high reserve price. An Airtel statement mentioned that the "the reserve pricing of these bands [700MHz and 3.5GHz] must be addressed on priority in future. This will help the nation to benefit from the digital dividend that will inevitably arise out of this."

CommsUpdate reported

India’s mass spectrum auction, which saw the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) put up for sale a total of 2,308MHz of airwaves across seven bands, has ended after just two days, with the government netting INR778.15 billion (USD10.6 billion) – well below the reserve price of INR3.92 trillion for the total available spectrum – with around two-thirds of the available spectrum left unsold.

As anticipated, the trio of bidders – Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio), Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) – steered clear of the 700MHz band, marking the second time that the government has failed to sell the sought-after airwaves by overpricing the spectrum. The operators also avoided the 2500MHz band, whilst just 15MHz of the 175MHz available in the 2100MHz band was sold.

The Economic Times writes that Jio purchased the most spectrum, paying INR571.23 billion for 488.35MHz, focusing primarily on renewing its 800MHz licences alongside frequencies in the 1800MHz and 2300MHz bands. Airtel paid the next largest amount, with INR186.99 billion for a total of 355.45MHz across the 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz bands. Vi, meanwhile, purchased just 11.8MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands for a total of INR19.93 billion.

In their press release, Jio said, "The acquired spectrum can be utilised for transition to 5G services at the appropriate time, where Jio has developed its own 5G stack."

Last year, The Economic Times of India had reported that Jio wants to do 5G Standalone (SA) while Airtel and Vi will do 5G Non-Standalone (NSA). The different 5G options are shown above and if you are not familiar, check out the tutorial here.

Matt Walker from MTN Consulting pointed out in the LinkedIn post that:

The $11B raised in this week's auctions is just a bit over the 2019 capex result for the whole industry (excluding spectrum).

Since the end of 2019, India's telco capex - again, excluding spectrum - has been trending downwards, with annualized capex through 3Q20 amounting to $7.7B.

It would be interesting to see how and how quickly do all the operators put their newly acquired spectrum to use. 

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