Hot Competition To Build 5G In India

The government of India is offering 72 gigahertz of spectrum in an auction of which 71% has now been sold in, attracting bids worth $19bn. This has exceeded expectations as total bids had more than doubled since the last auction in March 2021. 

The bids came from the three existing network operators in India,  Reliance-Jio or (R-Jio), Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel and from a new entrant, Adani Data Networks.

India's massive sales auction for 5G airwaves has become a competition between businesses owned by two of Asia's richest men, Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani. Ambani's R-Jio emerged as by far the largest bidder, buying spectrum worth $11bn, the remaining bids came from Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. In contrast, the Adani group spent only about $26m.

While Bharti Airtel and R-Jio reportedly bid for pan-India airwaves, Vodafone Idea spent only in priority sectors. 

"Jio is fully ready for 5G rollout in the shortest period of time because of its nationwide fibre presence... and strong global partnerships across the technology ecosystem," R-Jio said in a statement. The Adani Group bid on private spectrum that would be accessible in specific areas such as ports or airports - a sector in which the company has already heavily invested.

Mr Ambani's R-Jio is now a familiar name in India's Internet market, Mr Adani is a surprise bidder - he controls a sprawling business that spans ports, airports and power, and recently displaced Bill Gates to become the world's fourth-richest person, with a net worth more than $112bn. 

While the Adani Group has said it was not interested in competing in the wider market outside of the private spectrum, some commentators think this could just be the first step in that direction. "We believe if the Adani Group does end up buying spectrum in the upcoming auction, it could potentially increase competition... in addition to opening the doors for the Adani Group to expand into consumer mobile services over time," analysts at Goldman Sachs commented. 

The introduction of 5G in India is intended to introduce a new era of high-speed Internet, enabling the use of advanced connected devices through cloud computing technologies. 

With higher speeds on offer, Indian telecom companies are expected to benefit from charging higher prices for 5G - they have so far refrained from charging more for 4G plans as compared to 2G or 3G plans and likely lead to higher revenues for telecom companies, following a costly price war in previous years.

Despite the high prices being paid for spectrum, India is expected to deploy 5G slowly and right now only about 7% of India's overall smartphone base is 5G-enabled. 

Record proceeds from the auction - the highest compared to the previous seven rounds since 2010 - will help government finances at a time when India's fiscal deficit is at an historic high point. It is estimated  that India's Department of Telecommunications will receive $1.6bn upfront and the government is expected to complete allocating airwaves start delivering 5G services in October.

Economic Times:   CRISIL:    Newsmaker:    BBC:    Bloomberg:    Bloomberg:    Focus Technica

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