Spectrum auctions: Radio waves worth Rs 11,340.78 cr sold; Airtel top buyer

Bharti Airtel won airwaves worth Rs 6,856.76 crore, while rival Reliance Jio - the market leader - got Rs 973.62 crore worth of spectrum

Representative Image (social media)
Representative Image (social media)


Telecom czar Sunil Bharti Mittal's Airtel emerged as the biggest bidder for radio waves used to transmit mobile phone voice and data signals on Wednesday, 26 June 2024. It cornered about 60 per cent of the Rs 11,341 crore worth of spectrum sold in an auction that ended within two days.

While Bharti Airtel bid and won airwaves worth Rs 6,856.76 crore, rival Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio - the market leader - got Rs 973.62 crore worth of spectrum - the least in the three-corner contest.

Vodafone Idea, the struggling telecom operator that recently got a fresh lease of life through India's biggest follow on share sale, bagged spectrum valued Rs 3,510.4 crore.

An official statement said, in all 141.4 MHz of radio waves were sold for Rs 11,340.78 crore.

The government had offered a total of 10 GHz of spectrum ranging between 800 MHz to 26 GHz, which was worth Rs 96,238 crore at the base or auction start price.

However, only a small amount of the spectrum on offer got sold in seven rounds of auction.

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have successfully renewed their expired spectrum in 900 MHz and 1,800 MHz bands, and further an additional quantum of 87.2 MHz worth Rs 6,164.88 cr has been acquired by telcos to augment their services.

"Spectrum auction 2024 was part of a continuous allocation process that is transparent, robust and progressive. Telecom service providers (TSPs) have taken spectrum not only for continuity of service but for expanding their services but the volume is limited because already a large part of the spectrum required was auctioned only last year," Communications Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia told reporters here.

He added: "We will continue the process with the clear objective of ensuring reliability and growth of telecom services in India."

The bidding went above the reserve price in West Bengal and Bihar in 1,800 MHz band.

In all, the realisations from the 2024 auction works out to just about 12 per cent of Rs 96,238 crore minimum value that the government had estimated for the spectrum on offer. However, Telecom Department sources said that this is in line or even slightly above expectations, given that deposits (EMDs) by telcos just ahead of the auction gave a clear indication of the extent of participation and sale.

Further, almost 99 per cent of the spectrum on the block did not see much interest, as telcos had already picked up spectrum in those specific bands in the last auction conducted in August 2022.

Bharti Airtel, the top bidder, bought 97 MHz of radio frequency for mobile services for Rs 6,856.76 crore.

Notably, debt-ridden Vodafone Idea bought 30 Mhz of spectrum for Rs 3,510.4 crore and Reliance Jio Infocomm bought 14.4 Mhz for Rs 973.62 crore.

"Bharti Airtel Limited, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited and Vodafone Idea Limited have successfully bid and taken spectrum in this auction also for growth and continuity of services," the statement said.

According to it, the level of response to the auction was on account of most of the 5G spectrum getting sold in the auctions that were held in August 2022 and their monetisation still in progress.

"As auction for 5G spectrum was held recently & 5G monetisation is still in progress, no bidding took place in 800 MHz, 2,300 MHz, 3,300 MHz and 26 GHz bands. A total quantum of 141.4 MHz (26.5 per cent) was sold from the balance 533.6 MHz spectrum. This is despite the fact that a very large amount of spectrum, that is, 51.2 Ghz of spectrum was sold in August 2022," the statement said.

In all, available spectrum in 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, 2,300 MHz, 2,500 MHz, 3,300 MHz, and 26 GHz bands were put to auction. Of these, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz and 2,500 MHz bands caught telcos' fancy.

The unsold spectrum will again be put to auction next time, it said.

Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO of Bharti Airtel, said the company continues to judiciously acquire the right amount of spectrum to deliver the best possible experience to its customers.

"In this auction, we have bolstered our sub-giga hertz and mid-band holding which will significantly improve our coverage especially indoor," Vittal said.

A statement by Jio said the company has consolidated its leadership position by acquiring the right to use spectrum in the 1,800 MHz band in the circles of Bihar and West Bengal.

Akash M Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Jio Infocomm, said the company has already demonstrated its commitment to the Digital India vision by rolling out one of the world's fastest and widest stand-alone 5G networks within 12 months of allotment of spectrum.

"This new spectrum acquisition will continue to enable us serving aspirations of the new India, in terms of growing traffic demands and superior customer experience, which is no longer limited to only urban markets," Ambani said.

Akshaya Moondra, CEO, Vodafone Idea, said the company has strategically acquired spectrum in the select markets to enhance and strengthen its overall spectrum portfolio.

"This acquisition will enable us to effectively use dedicated sub GHz spectrum towards advanced technologies to enhance the experience we offer to our customers. As VIL embarks on its growth journey with the fund-raising plan in place, this spectrum acquisition will further strengthen its competitive position in the market," Moondra said.

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