5G spectrum auctions in India: to delay or not to delay?

5G spectrum auctions in India: to delay or not to delay?

Recent Indian news reports have suggested that discussions earlier this week involving the Digital Communications Commission, the Department of Telecommunications’ highest decision-making body, may presage a delay in the 5G spectrum auction process.

This hasn’t yet been confirmed by government, but the likelihood seems to be that 4G spectrum will be auctioned this year and 5G spectrum in 2021.

It’s reasonable to argue, as some DoT officials apparently have done, that a 5G spectrum auction this year would have attracted few bidders. Certainly Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel would prefer to wait, given the ongoing burden of their AGR dues. In addition they, along with Reliance Jio, have made it clear that the proposed minimum pricing of $65.3 million a unit (at present exchange rates) is too high.

There has also been strong speculation that, while the role or otherwise of Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE in providing technology is still unclear, the government might prefer to postpone the spectrum auction.

Nor has the question of 5G spectrum availability been satisfactorily answered yet. India’s Department of Space and its Ministry of Defence are said to have requested some of this sought-after spectrum, a move that has met with opposition from service providers.

The delay may also be a chance for the government to wait until operators can actually afford the proposed spectrum prices, said to be among the highest in the world, though, if true, that is likely to be wishful thinking.

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