It now looks pretty certain that there won’t be a 5G spectrum auction in India this year. However, there may be an auction of some sort – involving 4G.
The Indian Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is likely to hold a spectrum auction before October – but ignoring the 3,300-3,600 MHz band, intended for 5G.
The auctioneer – an agency that will develop and manage software for the auction – will be chosen from a shortlist by 22 May. Four companies – mjunction services Ltd, C1 India Pvt Ltd, MSTC Ltd and e-Procurement Technologies Ltd – have qualified in the technical round.
Indian media reports suggest that the planned auction will be of around 8000 MHz of spectrum. This would involve the 700MHz, 800MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz bands. It’s unlikely to be cheap, but there will be a fairly lenient repayment process involving instalments spread over up to 16 years.
And 5G? The base price of around $65 million per megahertz of 5G spectrum finalised by the Digital Communications Commission (DCC) is seen as too high – not just by operators, like Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, but by a task force constituted under the Indian finance ministry and by the ITU-APT Foundation of India.
In fact the ITU-APT Foundation of India, an arm of the UN-led International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has suggested that the allocation of 5G spectrum should go ahead without the reserve price, citing the prime minister Narendra Modi's Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) initiative.
Defence ministry demands for some of the 5G spectrum have further complicated matters, as has the continuing political debate around the participation of Chinese companies in rollout.
Nevertheless, even if these problems are resolved, the suggested spectrum prices are way above those of many other countries and getting all the operators on board, even with a prolonged delay, may be difficult.