The auction of 4G airwaves worth Rs 3.92 lakh crore at base price will start on March 1. The sales will help Reliance Jio renew a chunk of expiring spectrum permits and offer Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) a chance to strengthen their bandwidth holdings as data usage rises.

According to the notice inviting application (NIA), applications can continue till February 5. The auctions in 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz bands will be the first conducted after 2016.

ET in its January 5 edition had written that NIAs will get rolled out this week.

The auctions come at a time when the data surge has increased multiple folds and the pandemic has led to an increased network load. Analysts expect the sale to generate Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 crore, with Jio, the only profit making carrier, expected to be the main buyer, followed by Airtel, and Vi pitching in for only some airwaves, if any.

The auctions are most crucial for Jio.

A substantial portion of Jio’s own airwaves and those it shares with Reliance Communications in the 800 MHz band expires in 12 and 14 circles, respectively, starting July 2021. Without these airwaves, Jio’s services in these circles will be impacted, making it imperative that the telco bid for them, analysts said.

Mukesh Ambani-led Jio, with over 406 million subscribers, also needs additional airwaves to cater to surging data demand and a rapidly growing user base that it expects to touch 500 million.

Airtel and Vi – with about 294 million users and 272 million each – have less expensive airwaves, mostly in the 1800 MHz band, set to expire across eight circles each from July. Both have backup airwaves in most service areas.

In the past 10 years, the government has auctioned spectrum six times – in calendar years 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.