Bharti Airtel bosses told analysts the operator would sit out any early auction of 5G spectrum in India due to a lack of clarity over the business case and a shortage of compatible handsets, The Economic Times (ET) reported.
The operator’s chiefs said they believe deployment of the technology is at least three to four years away, casting doubt on a potential government plan to auction suitable spectrum in the back half of 2019, ET said.
Management’s views were fleshed out by ICICI Securities, which in a research note stated Airtel had little “appetite for more spectrum purchase” at this time, but would revisit its position “when the 5G ecosystem is more supportive”, the newspaper stated.
ET added a BNP Paribas analyst note also revealed the operator is concerned about the financial impact of any auction given the huge debt facing Indian operators.
India’s telecoms secretary Aruna Sundararajan had said a sale of 5G spectrum is likely in the second half of 2019, but some industry insiders believe an auction won’t happen until 2020 due to a fierce price war and industry’s high debt.
Sundararajan said in August the country was “not there yet on 5G” and was expected to fall around two to three years behind South Korea, Japan and China.
Rival operator Reliance Jio, meanwhile, expressed interest in obtaining 5G spectrum as soon as possible. Chairman Mukesh Ambani recently claimed India will be “fully 4G by 2020”, paving the way for 5G at that point.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said in early November the country’s next 4G auction would likely raise significantly less than previous sales of similar spectrum due to market consolidation and operators’ high debt levels, which reduce their access to credit.
In August the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India recommended releasing more than 8,500MHz of spectrum across nine bands for the auction and reduced the reserve prices of most of the bands to attract interest. It has not set the date for the sale.
A 4G auction in 2016 generated $9.8 billion, but 60 per cent of the 2,300MHz of spectrum made available was left unsold.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back