India may further delay the much-anticipated 5G spectrum auction to the last quarter of the financial year 2022-23 (FY23) in line with the government’s plan to introduce a yearly calendar for auctions.
This, however, is in contrast with Indian IT and Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s recent comments that the auction for 5G spectrum may take place in January-February in 2022.
“According to the new calendar for spectrum auctions, we are targeting 5G tender around January-March 2023,” an official was quoted as saying by Indian newspaper Business Standard. The person said that as per the internal consultations in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the auctions will be held in the last quarter of the next fiscal.
The report suggested that the lengthy process will cause the delay to prepare for the auction, including internal consultations and various other steps.
As per the process, after internal consultations, the DoT will send the proposal to the sector regulator, TRAI, seeking its views and recommendations.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will then conduct several rounds of consultations with the various stakeholders before sending its recommendations to the telecom department, sending these recommendations for vetting to the Digital Communications Commission, the apex decision-making body in the telecom sector.
After the final vetting, the proposal will go for approval from the Union Cabinet. After this, the DoT will issue the notice inviting applications from telecom companies.
The official told the publication that this whole process would take a substantial amount of time and couldn’t be done in a couple of months. “…also, the 5G trials are underway, and we have to evaluate the results of those trials. The auctions will follow the due process,” he further said.
Notably, India’s private telcos like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have asked the Indian government to ensure “optimum availability” of spectrum in the mid-band. Telcos have also made it clear that they won’t buy 5G spectrum at the recommended base price and urged the authorities to lower the reserve price for 5G spectrum to invest in networks and price the services affordably.
The TRAI had previously recommended a base price of $67.4 million per unit for spectrum in the 5G mid-band. However, last week, the regulator’s newly-appointed secretary, V Raghunandan, said that it was open to re-examining the price of 4G and 5G spectrum once the DoT sends the reference for 4G bands such as 700 Mhz and all 5G bands.
The telecom department will soon send the reference for 5G spectrum in mid-band, millimetre bands, and 700 MHz spectrum to the regulator. Telcos had asked DoT to seek TRAI’s views on the price discovery of the millimetre wave bands in the 26-28GHz range. They want India to allocate at least 400 MHz of spectrum in these bands per operator.
Indian telcos had in March this year skipped bidding for super-premium 700 MHz band due to high price. The 2500 MHz band was also left untouched. India’s antitrust watchdog already said in its report that 5G spectrum in the country is “relatively more expensive” than other countries, and the government needs to ensure that telcos are able to acquire spectrum at affordable rates.
In March this year, the Indian government sold 855.60 MHz of spectrum in 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, and 2300 MHz bands to Indian telcos against a total amount of 2308.80 MHz spectrum, which was put to auction.
India sold spectrum worth Rs 77,814.80 crore ($10.66 billion) to Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea March.