5G Spectrum Auction Likely to be Held in 2019, Airtel and Vodafone Idea Express Reluctance

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Smartphone manufacturers are already readying themselves for manufacturing devices which support 5G networks. Most top manufacturers like Apple and OnePlus have hinted towards 5G smartphones next year in 2019. Top chipset manufacturers like Qualcomm have already been working on processors supporting the new high-speed fifth generation network technology. With all of this, we can be sure that we will see 5G smartphones in the coming year. However, the primary question is when will the 5G network be rolled out in India? If it’s the case of Reliance Jio, and if things go according to the Mukesh Ambani led telco, then we might see the 5G network really soon in the country. However, other telcos like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea want to push the timeline of 5G spectrum auction to 2020.


On the other hand, Reliance Jio has also agreed on the pricing suggested by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) for the 5G spectrum and airwaves. Even then, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are not interested in participating in the auction if it happens in an accelerated timeline. With this environment in the telecom sector, it’s pretty clear that the industry will be torn two ways with Reliance Jio on one side and other telcos on the other hand. When the auction happens, there are also going to be winners and losers since one of the companies is bound to be better equipped to carry forward the fifth generation network technology.

Apex Court Pushing for Early Auctions

Supreme Court has also recommended that whatever spectrum the government is holding should be auctioned off rapidly and that the government should not hoard spectrum. Since the 5G spectrum right now sits with the government, it is explanatory that the Apex Court wants the government to move ahead with the auction of airwaves.

A Telecommunications Department official, S.S. Sirohi also spoke to ET and said, "The Supreme Court has told the government to auction whatever spectrum is available with it, and the government also gave an undertaking to the apex court to do so. It can’t hoard spectrum.”

Reliance Jio right now stands in contrast with the other telcos and has dismissed the appeals by Bharti Airtel and Vodafone of delaying the auctions. Reliance Jio President, Mathew Oommen has also made it clear that the company wishes to buy auction at the earliest and that the government should proceed ahead with the sale.

Airtel and Vodafone Idea Reluctant for Early Auctions

Speaking for the other incumbents, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, the telcos do not want that the auction should happen any earlier than 2020. Instead, the telecom operators have requested the government to work towards repairing the financially troubled industry of telecom which remains buried under a debt upwards of Rs 7 lakh crore. Airtel which now owns the second largest market share has also voiced the same opinion and has asked the government to delay the auction till 2020.

If we are to go by anonymous tips by DoT officials, then it is entirely possible that the government might proceed with holding the auction early in 2019. Since India will also witness its general elections 2019, it is expected that the government will follow with the sale even with the resistance from Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. With that being said, officials from the DoT have also expressed concerns about the debt in the industry remarking that if the auction happens in 2019, then it would mean more debt for players like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

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