India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is reportedly planning to carry out another round of 5G spectrum auctions in January and February next year. Spectrum in 11 bands, ranging from 600MHz to above 37GHz, is likely to be put up for sale.
Limited competition for spectrum is predicted. Only Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are expected to be involved, indicating subdued bidding intensity and a quick end to the next auction. Vodafone Idea (Vi) has cash flow issues, so probably won’t participate.
Adani Group is also unlikely to compete again. In fact it acquired 26GHz millimetre wave spectrum in August 2022, which required it to start offering service within a year and has yet to do so, though it had been assumed it would roll out private 5G network services.
A lot of useful spectrum has gone already. As we reported at the time, in August last year market leader Reliance Jio led the way with acquisitions of spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 1800MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz bands at a cost of Rs88,078 crore (some US$11.2 billion) out of a little over US$19 billion spent by all participants.
That said, Bharti Airtel and Vi have permits expiring in 2024 in some areas of the country, so this could influence their approach to the auction.
In addition, this is, it seems, the first time that spectrum in the bands above 37GHz has been put up for sale.
It’s also worth mentioning that state-run operator BSNL is seeking spectrum in 700MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz bands. Apparently, after a decision is made on how much spectrum needs to be given to the state-owned company, the remaining unsold spectrum will be put up for sale.