Telecom operators in India agreed to spend $19 billion on the government auction for the 5G airwaves, New Delhi said Monday, the highest of them in any spectrum sale as the world’s second-largest wireless market is set to roll out enhanced and faster speech and data speeds.
Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea competed against each other for seven days and made the majority of acquisitions, buying 71% of all spectrum on offer, exceeding expectations according to the government.
Tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s Jio, who counts Google and Meta among his backers, was the most aggressive entrant, spending $11.13 billion, Telecom Secretary Ashwini Vaishnaw said in a news conference Monday. Google-backed Airtel spent $5.44 billion, while Vodafone Idea, the Indian unit of British giant Vodafone Group and billionaire Kumar Mangalam’s Idea Cellular, spent $2.37 billion.
Although India is the second largest wireless market, it has been slow compared to several markets in setting up the networks for the rollout of 5G technology, which carriers around the world say offer significantly faster data speeds and a significant role in applications related to innovations in, for example, autonomous mobility and telemedicine and robotics.
The lure of faster speeds is likely to help telecom operators struggling with declining revenues in recent years persuade consumers to pay more for data, analysts say.
“We have always believed that India will become a leading economic power in the world by harnessing the power of breakthrough technologies. This was the vision and conviction from which Jio emerged. The speed, scale and societal impact of Jio’s 4G rollout is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Now, with greater ambition and stronger determination, Jio is poised to lead India’s march into the 5G era,” Akash Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm, said in a statement. “Jio is committed to providing affordable, world-class 5G and 5G services. We will provide services, platforms and solutions that will accelerate India’s digital revolution, especially in critical sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and e-Governance.”
Reliance’s aggressive releases show his growing digital ambitions. The oil giant, which launched its telecommunications company six years ago, has established itself as the largest wireless provider in India, with more than 420 million subscribers. By offering competitive data pricing, Jio won subscribers and forced the industry to cut rates, ushering in an era that significantly boosted mobile data usage in the South Asian nation and benefited countless startups.
“The Hail Mary moment was the arrival of Reliance Jio on the market. It has democratized data and smartphones on a scale we’ve never seen in countries other than China,” Karthik Reddy, a VC at early-stage venture firm Blume Ventures, said in a previous londonbusinessblog.com interview.
New Delhi said Reliance acquired spectrum in 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands, Bharti acquired Airtel spectrum in 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz and Vodafone Idea cornered driven spectrum in 3300 MHz and 26 GHz bands.
India said it expects the rollout of 5G networks to begin from October and hopes residents of several key cities will be able to experience the faster internet by the end of the year. Vaishnaw declared the auction for 5G airwaves a success for India and said the government is working to complete the allotment by August 10.
Ahead of the rollout, smartphone makers have been selling handsets capable of supporting 5G networks in India for nearly two years now. In fact, they have shipped more than 50 million 5G-enabled smartphones to the South Asian market, a fifth of them in the quarter ended June this year, according to research firm Counterpoint. India is also the second largest smartphone market in the world and one of the fastest growing.
“This spectrum gain at the latest auction is part of a conscious strategy to buy the best spectrum assets at a significantly lower relative cost compared to our competition. This enables us to raise the bar for innovation and meet the emerging needs of every discerning customer who demands the best experience in India,” said Gopal Vittal, chief executive of Bharti Airtel, in a statement.
India’s richest man, Gautam Adani’s company, also made its debut at auction, but kept its interest largely limited with spending only $26.8 million. The company said last month that it participated in the spectrum auction to provide private network solutions with enhanced cybersecurity in “the airport, ports and logistics, power generation, transmission, distribution and various manufacturing activities”.