Indian telecommunications operators committed to pay INR778 billion ($10.6 billion) for additional spectrum to expand 4G across the country.

India’s latest spectrum auction ended after two days of bidding, although the 5G-suitable 700 MHz band did not receive offers due to high reserve prices.

Operators acquired this additional 4G spectrum as several 4G licenses were set to expire in the short term.

Bharti Airtel said it committed a total of INR187 billion to acquire a total of 355.45 megahertz of low and mid-band spectrum.

The company noted that the low-band spectrum would help it to improve deep indoor coverage in urban environments, while strengthening its mid-band holdings, helping it to deliver 5G in a future phase.

Rival operator Vodafone Idea did not provide specific details of the acquired frequencies, but confirmed it had secured spectrum in five circles to help further accelerate 4G coverage and capacity in those regions.

Meanwhile, Reliance Jio has acquired 4G spectrum in 22 circles across India in the 800 MHz, 1.800 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands for a total of INR 572.2 billion, becoming the largest buyer of frequencies in the process.

The telco said that it has increased its spectrum capacity by 55% to 1,717 megahertz and claimed to be the largest holder of spectrum in sub-GHz and 2.3 GHz band.

“With our increased spectrum footprint, we are ready to further expand the digital footprint in India as well as get ourselves ready for the imminent 5G rollout,” said Mukesh Ambani chairman of Reliance Industries, Jio’s parent company.

Ambani had previously said that Reliance Jio Infocomm was expecting to launch 5G services in the second half of next year.

In July 2020, Ambani had confirmed that Jio Platforms engineers had designed and developed a “complete 5G system” from scratch. The executive said that Jio Platforms’ 5G kit will be ready for trials as soon as spectrum is available, with field deployments possible in 2021.

Once the 5G equipment is proven in India, Ambani said Jio Platforms will be well-positioned to export the system to other global operators as a complete managed service.

Operator will be required to make an upfront payment of 25% of the acquired spectrum in the 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands, and 50% of the rest of the bands. The outstanding sum is to be paid in 16 annual payments after a two-year moratorium.

No bids for 700 MHz frequencies

As it occurred in 2016, operators did not submit offers for these frequencies due to the high price of the band. Also, spectrum in the 2.5 GHz remained unsold.

The government had lowered the reserve price for spectrum in the 700 MHz band by nearly 40% compared to the previous auction in 2016.

Airtel explained the 700 MHz band “did not get any bid from the operators as it made no economic sense for them based on the high reserve price”.

The carrier also said that spectrum in the 700 MHz, coupled with 3.5 GHz, had the potential to accelerate “India’s progress to the top league of digitally-enabled nations, therefore the reserve pricing of these bands must be addressed on priority in the future.”

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