DoT completes USD19bn 5G auction

2 Aug 2022

India has completed its 5G spectrum auction, which saw the four bidders – Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio), Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea (Vi) and Adani Data Networks – spend a total of INR1.5 trillion (USD18.97 billion) on frequencies in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 3.5GHz and 26GHz bands. There were few surprises in terms of bidding, with mobile market leaders Jio and Airtel spending heavily to shore up their 4G spectrum holdings and prepare for their respective 5G launches, whilst cash-strapped Vi bid more conservatively on 5G airwaves in selected markets, and newcomer Adani acquired 5G frequencies in a handful of selected markets. Notably, the sale saw the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) finally offload a portion of 700MHz frequencies, after its previous two attempts to sell spectrum in that band failed due to the high reserve prices set by the government. Prices for the sub-GHz band were still set too high for most of the participants, however, and only Jio bid for the frequencies, securing 2×10MHz nationwide.

Jio’s total spend at the auction was INR880.8 billion, nearly half of which (INR364 billion) was from its pan-India 700MHz purchase. In addition to the 700MHz band, Jio also acquired pan-India spectrum in the 3.5GHz and 26GHz ranges, as well as 800MHz airwaves in four circles and 1800MHz in six. In a statement following the auction, Jio said that it was prepared for a rapid 5G rollout: ‘Jio has acquired a unique combination of low-band, mid-band and mmWave spectrum, which coupled with our deep fibre network and indigenous technology platforms will enable us to provide “5G Everywhere” and “5G For All”.’

For its part, meanwhile, Airtel spent a total of INR430.8 billion on pan-India 3.5GHz and 26GHz spectrum alongside 900MHz (three circles), 1800MHz (six circles) and 2100MHz (six circles) blocks. Regarding its strategy, in particular its decision to eschew the 700MHz band, Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal was quoted as saying: ‘This spectrum acquisition … has been a part of a deliberate strategy to buy the best spectrum assets at a substantially lower relative cost compared to our competition. This will allow us to raise the bar on innovation and address the emerging needs of every discerning customer who demands the best experience in India.’

Vi’s total spend amounted to INR187.8 billion and included the purchase of 5G spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for 17 circles and the 26GHz band in 16 circles. Vi also acquired additional 4G spectrum in three circles: 1800MHz and 2500MHz spectrum in Andhra Pradesh; 2100MHz spectrum in Karnataka; and 2500MHz in Punjab. Finally, Adani paid a total of INR2.1 billion for 26GHz licences in six circles: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.