Indian 3G auction closes, seven of nine bidders grab concessions

20 May 2010

The oft-delayed sale of Indian 3G spectrum has finally been concluded, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has announced, revealing that the auction raised more than double the expected amount for the government. After 34 days of bidding, seven of the nine operators that had successfully applied to take part in the sale process came away with 3G licences, although no single operator was able to lay claim to a pan-India concession, with the most that any cellco managed to win being frequencies in 13 of the country’s 22 telecoms circles.

Three of the participants – Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications (RCOM) and Aircel – acquired 2×5MHz paired spectrum in 13 circles, although due to the manner of the bidding the trio paid significantly different amounts for their respective concessions, with licence prices decided on a circle-by-circle basis. Bharti’s 13 licence areas will cost it INR122.95 billion (USD2.66 billion), the highest paid by any of the seven 3G auction winners, while Aircel will pay just over half of that, INR64.99 billion, for its 13 licences; RCOM meanwhile will be charged INR85.85 billion. Idea Cellular bagged the next highest number of circles – eleven – paying INR57.69 billion, while both Tata Teleservices (TTSL) and Vodafone Essar will be permitted to offer third-generation services in nine circles, paying INR58.64 billion and INR116.18 billion respectively for their concessions. STel, which only launched 2G services in December 2009, rounded out the successful bidders, claiming three circles for a total of INR731 million. The two operators that came away empty-handed were Etisalat and Videocon.

State-owned operators Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) have both already been allocated 3G spectrum, and under the terms of their concessions they will now be required to match the highest bids for their respective circles of operation. With both BSNL and MTNL having already launched commercial 3G services, it will not be until September 2010 that they are joined by the private players, whose 3G licences stipulate that as the earliest launch date.

With the UMTS auction now finalised the sale of wireless broadband spectrum is expected to start within the next couple of days, with a total of eleven companies having already been given the go-ahead to take part in the sale: Tikona Digital, Qualcomm, Tata Communications, Vodafone Essar, Idea, Bharti, Aircel, Spice Communications, Augere, HFC and RCOM. As previously reported by CommsUpdate, both Qualcomm and HFCL Infotel are expected to bid for pan-India WiMAX spectrum, while Augere, Tikona Digital and Spice Communications have stated that they will only apply for certain regions.

Licensed 3G circles

Bharti Airtel: Delhi, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh (W), Rajasthan, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, North East, Jammu & Kashmir

Reliance Communications: Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, North East, Jammu & Kashmir

Aircel: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Calcutta, Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh (E), West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, North East, Jammu & Kashmir

Idea Cellular: Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (E), Uttar Pradesh (W), Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir

Vodafone Essar: Delhi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Calcutta, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (E), West Bengal

Tata Teleservices: Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (W), Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh

STel: Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa