Jio, Airtel pay $312mn for immediate allocation of unsold 4G spectrum

4g spectrum India
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Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, India’s top two telecom operators, have paid Rs 2,306.97 crore ($311.76 million) to the Indian government for the immediate allocation of unsold 4G spectrum as they look to quickly expand 4G broadband coverage and service in the country.

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) confirmed the payment through official notification. It said it has assigned “immediately available unsold spectrum blocks” in place of spectrum blocks that were to be allocated to them later in the same band and telecom circle.

The Mukesh Ambani-led telecom operator paid Rs 2,149.59 crore ($ 290.49 million), while Airtel paid Rs 157.38 crore ($21.27 million) against the payment timeline in August-September 2021.

According to reports, both telcos had sought the unsold 4G spectrum primarily in the 1800 MHz and 800 MHz bands. With the new spectrum, both telcos will now be able to improve their coverage at a time when millions of people continue to operate from home amid a second Covid-19 wave in the country.

The Indian government also said that the DoT had assigned spectrum to successful bidders — Airtel, Jio and Vodafone Idea — of the recently concluded spectrum auction, 2021. All three telcos have also been issued “frequency assignment letters” on Friday.

The frequency assignment was accompanied by a frequency harmonization exercise, whereby spectrum blocks assigned to telcos in the current spectrum auction were made contiguous with the spectrum blocks already held by them in various bands in different Licensed Service Areas (LSAs), the Indian government said in an official notification.

The government said that the harmonization of spectrum was accomplished in 19 telecom circles or LSAs in 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz bands, and three circles in the 2100MHz band and 16 circles in the 2300 MHz band.

“The harmonization exercise facilitates more efficient utilization of spectrum held by TSPs, leading to improved Quality of Service for consumers,” the government said in a statement.

The government sold a total quantity of 855.60 MHz of spectrum in 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, and 2300 MHz bands to Indian telcos.

“We are happy that harmonisation of spectrum has been done with the assignment of spectrum as this will enable a better quality of service for subscribers as telcos will work with larger and contiguous bands of spectrum,” the Department of Telecommunications secretary Anshu Prakash was quoted as saying by the Economic Times separately.

India sold spectrum worth Rs 77,814.80 crore ($10.66 billion) to Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea March. All three telecom players collectively placed bids for 855.60 MHz of spectrum out of a total quantity of 2308.80 MHz spectrum, which was put to auction.

However, they didn’t place bids for super-premium and 5G-suitable 700 MHz due to high reserve prices. The 2500 MHz band was also left untouched.

India’s top telco, Reliance Jio, was the largest buyer with its purchase of spectrum in all 22 circles across India in the 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz bands for Rs 5,77,123 crore ($7.83 billion).

Bharti Airtel acquired 355.45 MHz spectrum across sub GHz, mid-band and 2300 MHz bands for Rs 18,699 crore ($2.56 billion). Vodafone Idea Limited (VIL) acquired 11.8 MHz spectrum worth Rs 1,993 crore ($273.01 million) to enhance 4G coverage and capacity in the 5 circles.

Indian telcos have already paid Rs 21918.47 crore  ($2.96 billion) as upfront payment on March 18, 2021, the government said.

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