Incumbents to pressure DoT to auction extra 1800MHz spectrum

29 Jul 2014

India’s cellcos are pushing for the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to make more 1800MHz spectrum available at the next auction, the Economic Times writes. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications (RCOM) are pressuring the regulator to ensure that there are sufficient 1800MHz spectrum resources for operators that fail to win back their 900MHz licences as they expire over the next two to three years. The cellcos expect the DoT to strip unused spectrum from a number of government agencies to make up the shortfall. 26MHz of 1800MHz will be up for renewal, whilst a further 78MHz left unsold from the previous tender will also be up for grabs. However, 184MHz of 900MHz spectrum will expire in 2015-2016, with Airtel needing to repurchase 13 concessions in non-metro circles, Vodafone and Idea nine apiece and RCOM seven.

The paper quotes an unnamed official from one of the companies as saying: ‘There’s clearly insufficient spectrum for operators whose licences are due for extension to continue their current level of service, which is why we will urge the DoT to auction the bulk of the 1800MHz spectrum inventory with multiple government agencies, including the armed forces.’ The same official noted that the 1800MHz band cannot sustain mobile broadband services in many areas – including Delhi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab – as the spectrum is non-contiguous. With the exception of Kolkata, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, the 1800MHz is ‘fragments and can at best be used for 2G services.’

The cellcos’ worries are not unfounded, TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that the incumbents faced additional pressure in the most recent auction from deep-pocketed newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL) – owned by petrochemical giant Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) – which bid aggressively for 900MHz frequencies, although it failed to snatch up any of the licences. For its part, RCOM, facing the lowest bill for licence renewals, has said that it will cut prices in the busiest circles to steal market share from its larger rivals, looking to lure away lucrative subscribers that those players can ill-afford to lose.