India's biggest ever auction of telecom spectrum received a record Rs 1.5 lakh crore of bids, with Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio cornering nearly half of all the airwaves sold with a Rs 88,078 crore bid. Richest Indian Gautam Adani's group, whose entry in the auction was billed by some as another flashpoint in the rivalry with Ambani, paid Rs 212 crore for 400 MHz, or less than 1 per cent of all spectrum sold, in a band that is not used for offering public telephony services. Telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal's Bharti Airtel made a successful bid of Rs 43,084 crore, while Vodafone Idea Ltd bought spectrum for Rs 18,799 crore.
Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said of the 72,098 MHz of spectrum offered across 10 bands, 51,236 MHz, or 71 per cent, was sold. The auctions and spectrum top-up by companies will pave the way for better quality of services for consumers across the country, he added. The 5G services will be launched by October.
In all, bids worth Rs 1,50,173 crore were received, he said, adding the government will in the first year get Rs 13,365 crore. Barring the 1800 MHz band, for which Jio and Airtel engaged in fierce bidding, spectrum in all bands was sold at the reserve (base) price, he noted.
The mop-up from the 5G spectrum, capable of offering ultra-high speed mobile internet connectivity, is almost double of Rs 77,815 crore worth 4G airwaves sold last year and triple of Rs 50,968.37 crore garnered from 3G auctions in 2010. Here are six things to know:
1. Reliance Jio was the top bidder, offering a cumulative bid of Rs 88,078 crore for 24,740 MHz of airwaves across five bands capable of offering speeds about 10 times faster than 4G. It acquired the coveted 700 MHz spectrum that can provide 6-10 km of signal range with one tower and forms a good base for offering fifth generation (5G) services, in all 22 circles or zones in the country.
Adani group bought spectrum in the 26 GHz band, which is suitable for setting up a private network for end-to-end communication, in six regions -- Gujarat, Mumbai, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
Airtel bought a total of 19,867.8 MHz of spectrum across five bands but none in 700 MHz. Vodafone Idea acquired 6228 MHz of airwaves.
2. Vaishnaw said the 600 MHz band, offered for the first time, did not receive any interest, as the ecosystem around this band is yet to develop. "Spectrum purchased is good enough to cover all circles in the country. Coming 2-3 years, we will have good 5G coverage," he noted. The government is talking to all operators to say that with all enablers in place, the focus of telcos should be on service quality improvement.
He said the 26 GHz application will be for non-public networks, suitable for fixed wireless access. It is a good alternative to fibre for last mile connectivity.
The minister said allocation will be made by August 10 and 5G services are expected to be rolled out from October. "With better availability of the spectrum, call quality is expected to improve," he added.
3. The government had put on offer spectrum in 10 bands but received no bids for airwaves in 600 MHz. About two-thirds of the bids were for the 5G bands (3300Mhz and 26Ghz), while more than a quarter of the demand came in the 700 Mhz band -- that had gone unsold in the previous two auctions (2016 and 2021)
In the auction conducted last year -- that had lasted two days -- Reliance Jio picked up spectrum worth Rs 57,122.65 crore, Bharti Airtel bid about Rs 18,699 crore, and Vodafone Idea bought spectrum worth Rs 1,993.40 crore.
This year, a total of 72 GHz (gigahertz) of radiowaves worth at least Rs 4.3 lakh crore were put on the block.
4. In addition to powering ultra-low latency connections, which allow downloading full-length high-quality video or movie to a mobile device in a matter of seconds (even in crowded areas), fifth generation or 5G would enable solutions such as e-health, connected vehicles, more immersive augmented reality and metaverse experiences, life-saving use cases, and advanced mobile cloud gaming, among others.
5. Jio, India's largest telecom firm, said it acquired spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands, which will enable it "to build the world's most advanced 5G network".
Akash M Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm, said the speed, scale and societal impact of Jio's 4G rollout are unmatched anywhere in the world. "Now, with a bigger ambition and stronger resolve, Jio is set to lead India's march into the 5G era."
6. Airtel said it has acquired 19,867.8 MHz spectrum in 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz frequency bands for Rs 43,084 cr.
"The acquisition of this vast amount of spectrum strapped on to an already industry best existing pool of spectrum will mean that the company does not need to spend any material sum on the spectrum for many years to come."
Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, Bharti Airtel said, "This spectrum acquisition at the latest auction has been a part of a deliberate strategy to buy the best spectrum assets at a substantially lower relative cost compared to our competition."
In a statement, Vodafone Idea said it participated in the spectrum auction to strengthen its pan-India 4G footprint and embark on the 5G rollout journey.
On what kind of mobile tariff could be expected by consumers in 5G as operators begin rolling out services from October, the minister said he is of the firm belief that the trend of affordable services will continue in India.