India’s DoT sends invites for next 5G spectrum auction on May 20

India’s DoT sends invites for next 5G spectrum auction on May 20

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) announced on Friday that its next spectrum auction – which will put more 5G bands on the block – will commence on May 20, and has invited all players to apply.

The DoT will offer spectrum in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands. ETTelecom reports that just over 10,523 MHz of 5G spectrum is up for grabs, worth INR963.1 billion (US$11.3 billion).

As reported earlier, the auction will not include the 600-MHz band, as the DoT is still working out how to mitigate potential interference issues with satellite operators, the report said.

The DoT issued a notice inviting application (NIA) for the auction on Friday that invites all eligible parties to participate and explains the rules for the auction.

For a start, winners will keep their licences for a minimum of 10 years, and will not be required to pay spectrum usage charges (SUC).

Participants must hold a permit for either a unified access service licence (UASL) or a unified licence (UL), although new entrants who commit to obtaining a UL can also bid for spectrum. The NIA also says that companies that don’t hold spectrum (or whose spectrum licences have expired) in particular licence service areas (LSAs) will be treated as new entrants.

That matters because any firm classified as a new entrant must show a net worth of INR1 billion per LSA, with the exception of Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast circles, in which case its INR500 million.

All players have until April 22 to apply for the auction. The DoT plans to hold a mock auction on May 13 and 14 ahead of the actual auction on May 20.

However, according to ETTelecom, the auction may not attract much interest this time around, as the 5G spectrum bought by telcos in July 2022 is enough to serve their current needs. Much of the spectrum in that auction went unsold. 

Reliance Jio completed its 5G rollout last year, while Bharti Airtel is on track to complete its rollout this month. Both have been offering commercial 5G services since October 2022. Vodafone Idea expects to launch 5G services in the second half of this year.

The report said that industry analysts expect Airtel and Vodafone Idea to focus mainly on circles where they need to renew spectrum licences this year. Meanwhile, Adani Group – which bought 5G spectrum in the 2022 auction ostensibly for private use and acquired a UASL in October that year – may look to purchase some lower-band spectrum, the report said.

In January, the DoT acknowledged this by slashing its spectrum auction revenue target for financial year 2024 from earlier estimates of INR50 billion to around a tenth of that amount.


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