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NEW DELHI : Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd emerged as the top buyer in a government auction of airwaves, spending 88,078 crore, more than double that of second-placed Bharti Airtel Ltd.

Ambani’s purchases helped the government net a record 1.5 trillion by selling 51,236MHz of spectrum in the auction that lasted a week. About 71% of the 72,098MHz airwaves on sale, including 5G spectrum, were picked up by wireless operators, with the highest 80,590 crore coming from the sale of spectrum in the 3.3GHz band. The sale of airwaves in the 700MHz, 26GHz and 1,800MHz bands contributed 39,270 crore, 14,709 crore and 10,376 crore, respectively.

War of the waves
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War of the waves

“We understand that the spectrum purchased is good enough for covering the entire country. So, there’s good reason to believe that in the coming two to three years, we’ll have very good coverage of 5G in the entire country," telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told reporters on Monday. He added that 5G network rollouts are expected to begin by October.

Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecom operator, led the purchases, becoming the sole carrier to buy 220MHz of paired airwaves in the pricier 700MHz band across all 22 circles. The company said it would pay 7,877 crore as the first-year instalment. This means that the operator will pay the government a total of 1.57 trillion over 20 years, including the interest amount.

Reliance Jio also acquired pan-India airwaves in the 3.3GHz and 26GHz band to enhance existing capacities and network coverage, enabling its 5G services to be available deep and wide. The carrier said it would conduct a pan-India rollout later this month. The aggressive stance of Reliance Jio indicates it plans to continue to dominate the telecom market, and any attempt by rivals Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to regain market share will be a tall order. “We will celebrate ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (15 August) with a pan India 5G rollout. We will provide services, platforms and solutions that will accelerate India’s digital revolution, especially in crucial sectors like education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and e-governance," said Akash Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm.

Bharti Airtel, the country’s second-largest operator, bought airwaves in all circles in the 5G bands of 26GHz and 3.3GHz, for 37,292 crore. It also added capacity in the 900MHz, 1,800MHz and 2,100MHz bands in 16 circles, taking its total spectrum purchase to 43,084 crore for 19,867.8MHz of airwaves across all bands.

Airtel plans to launch 5G services across the country, starting with key cities. The company said its premium customer base would adopt 5G devices at a rapid pace. “This spectrum acquisition at the latest auction has been a part of a deliberate strategy to buy the best spectrum assets at a substantially lower relative cost compared to our competition," said Gopal Vittal, managing director and chief executive officer of Bharti Airtel.

Vodafone Idea, the weakest operator among the three, purchased 6,228MHz units of airwaves in the 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,500MHz, 3.3GHz and 26GHz bands, spending a total of 18,799 crore. The operator bought 5G spectrum in 17 priority circles and mmWave 5G spectrum or 26 GHz band in 16 circles, enabling it to offer 5G services over most of the country.

“We actively participated in the spectrum auction to strengthen our pan-India 4G footprint and embark on our 5G rollout journey in line with our long-term vision," the company said in a statement. It noted that the additional 4G spectrum acquired in three circles of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab will further improve customer experience.

Surprise entrant Adani Data Networks Ltd bought just 400MHz in the 26GHz band in the six circles of Gujarat, Mumbai, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh. The limited purchase indicates it will use the airwaves solely for captive or enterprise services.

Interestingly, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio were able to secure 10MHz airwaves each, while Airtel got 0.8MHz in the most populous UP East circle in the 1,800MHz band. Competitive bidding beyond the base price in this circle —which has a 101 million population and is the sixth-largest revenue contributor for telcos—had stretched the auctions from the second day until Monday afternoon.

Based on the amount of airwaves purchased, the government will get a minimum of 13,365 crore as the first annual instalment from all the bidders.

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