Mumbai: India, the biggest economy in the world not offering third-generation (3G) cellphone services nationwide, expects to complete the auction of 3G licences by 31 March, Sam Pitroda, an adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said on Friday.
Wait over? Sam Pitroda, an adviser to the PM. Delays in opening 3G bidding has fuelled uncertainty about the start of the service. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
The Centre had set 14 January as the tentative deadline to start taking bids for the airwaves as per its schedule announced in October. The auction will be announced very soon, Pitroda said, without giving details.
Delays in opening bidding since the government announced its plan to auction the airwaves in November 2007 has fuelled uncertainty about the start of 3G services in the world’s largest wireless market by users after China.
Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s biggest cellphone operator, has said he is worried with the wait, signalling concern among likely bidders and equipment vendors that market growth could slow.
The 3G services may help boost revenue at Bharti, Reliance Communications Ltd, Vodafone Group Plc’s local unit and other operators by helping them improve voice and data services amid a price war, where the companies are offering calls for as little as one paisa per minute.
“Bharti expects 3G services to boost voice efficiencies and the speed of data downloads,” chief executive officer Manoj Kohli had said on 27 August. The carrier is eager to participate in the auction, he said at the time.
The prime minister had in December signalled that the government may have resolved most of the issues hindering the start of the high-speed services when he announced auctions would be conducted shortly, without specifying a timeframe.
“The auctions for licences to operate 3G services will earn India about Rs25,000 crore,” telecom minister A. Raja had said on 27 August. The minimum price for a pan-Indian permit was set at Rs3,500 crore. As many as four slots will be sold for each of the nation’s 22 phone-service zones, Raja had said.
India’s cellphone subscribers totalled 506 million at the end of November, according to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.