India’s government plans to hold auctions this year for 5G spectrum in frequencies above 3GHz as well as additional spectrum across seven bands that were left unsold in last October’s auction, The Economic Times (ET) reported.
The country’s largest ever spectrum auction in October generated $9.8 billion for the government, but 60 per cent of the available spectrum was not sold.
A government source told ET a 5G auction would sell spectrum in the 3.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands, and the Telecom Ministry was reviewing the case and would contact the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) soon. The amount of spectrum to be sold in each band was not disclosed.
The government also is planning to auction the leftover spectrum from the October sale, which included airwaves in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz and 2,500MHz bands. For example, there was no interest in the highly efficient 700MHz and 900MHz bands due to the high reserve prices. The government had hoped the 700MHz band alone would bring in an estimated INR4 trillion ($59 billion), but the band went unsold.
While the government is pushing for new auctions, the industry is suffering from rising debt levels and intense price pressure after the entry of 4G upstart Reliance Jio last September.
Moody’s said in October after the auction the country’s mobile operators, whose balance sheets were already stretched, will face additional obstacles. “These spectrum wins will weigh on balance sheets and cash flows, as debt levels will rise materially for most operators,” warned Annalisa Di Chiara, a Moody’s VP and senior credit officer. “The operators will experience a reduction in their ability to fund further expansion or to absorb the effects of weaker profitability as competition intensifies.”
In January Airtel reported a sharp drop in profit for its fiscal Q3 as lower data and voice tariffs in its domestic market pulled down its turnover for the first time since 2002. Idea reported its first ever quarterly net loss for its fiscal Q3. To hold onto its existing mobile subscribers, Idea said it was forced to reduce voice rates by 10.6 per cent and cut its mobile data rates by 15.2 per cent.