The ongoing spectrum auction, which is getting dragged as the country’s top two telecom operators (Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel) are locked in an intense battle for a larger slice of airwaves in the 1,800 Mhz band in Uttar Pradesh (East) circle, took an interesting turn on Sunday. The bid value in the circle at Rs 160.57 crore per Mhz crossed the final price of Rs 153 crore per Mhz in the same band in 2021 auctions. The reserve price for this band in the circle for current auction is Rs 91 crore per Mhz. It was Rs 153 crore per Mhz in 2021 auction.
Sunday was the sixth day of the auction and interestingly in 2016 auctions, on the sixth day in the same circle, the bid price had touched Rs 133.15 crore per Mhz against a reserve price of Rs 115 crore per Mhz.
The price realised for 1,800 Mhz so far is the highest if the last five auctions since 2012 are taken into account.
The total mop up by the government as on Sunday was Rs 1.5 trillion against Saturday’s Rs 1.49 trillion, a jump of Rs 163 crore.
The total spend in UP (E) for the 1,800 Mhz band now stands at Rs 1,734 crore against Saturday’s Rs 1,571 crore.
Out of total of 72 Ghz spectrum put up for auctions, a total of 51 Mhz has got sold as on Sunday. This amount is stagnant since the second day of the auctions.
It may be mentioned that barring UP (E) and 1,800 Mhz band, there’s no activity in any other band or any circle. This means that as soon as either Jio or Bharti blinks here, the auction will close.
As reported earlier, Bharti has the highest spectrum holding in the 1,800 Mhz in this circle at 15 Mhz while both Jio and Vodafone Idea have 10 Mhz each. If the overall spectrum holding, including spectrum in other bands, is taken into account, Bharti has 45 Mhz, Jio is at 41.25 Mhz and Vodafone Idea has 45.60 Mhz. Therefore, all the three operators hold nearly same level of total spectrum across bands.
However, Bharti has in addition 6.2 Mhz in the 900 Mhz which is unliberalised – meaning acquired not through auctions but administrative allocation which cannot be used for 4G services. This spectrum is expiring in 2024. Since there’s no spectrum available for auction in the 900 Mhz, which is also a 4G band, Bharti wants to acquire additional 5 Mhz in the 1,800 Mhz band. If it does so, its holding in 1,800 Mhz will increase from 15 Mhz to 20 Mhz. Its overall tally in the bands of 900 Mhz, 1,800 Mhz, 2,100 Mhz will become 30 Mhz.
The current holding of Jio in 1,800 Mhz and 800 Mhz is 25 Mhz. If it acquires 5 Mhz, then its tally will be equal to Bharti’s and if it fails then Bharti will widen its lead.
As the two fight, the financially weaker, Vodafone Idea is also looking to improve its holding in the 1,800 Mhz in this circle to maintain competitive leverage. In this scenario, the possibility of the auctions going on for a few more days cannot be ruled out.
The reason for this intense fight for 4G spectrum band in UP (E) circle could be that it’s the most populous – population at around 145 million and subscriber base of 90 million. Of this, Bharti Airtel has the highest subscribers at 37.47 million, followed by Reliance Jio at 32.93 million and Vodafone Idea at 20.23 million.