The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has sought approval from the Supreme Court to secure around INR330 billion (USD4.6 billion) from operators related to licence fees and spectrum charges, the Economic Times reports. The DoT claimed that existing bank guarantees are insufficient to cover the ‘huge public money at stake’ and that it needs the additional guarantees to ensure that the ‘government’s interests are secured’. The request has raised concerns from the nation’s cellcos, with an unnamed senior industry executive quoted as saying that the move would ‘add to the financial burden’ of operators. If approved, the decision could impact several ongoing mergers and acquisition deals, including the long-delayed sale of Reliance Communications’ (RCOM’s) spectrum to Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio), and Bharti Airtel’s takeover of Tata Group’s wireless business.
Meanwhile, Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan has said that the planned auction of spectrum for 5G is likely to take place in the ‘later half’ of 2019. The official explained that the rollout of 5G would not take as long as the upgrade from 3G to 4G, provided that avenues for monetisation are properly identified. To that end, the DoT is aiming to provide operators with a one-year timeframe for trials with experimental spectrum – pushing back the sale of commercial licences later into 2019.