Airtel, Jio and Vodafone Idea: Band Wise Spectrum Expiry Analysis

Airtel has 41.8 MHz spectrum, a mixture of liberalised and unliberailsed, set to expire near term in 2024, and the next expiry year falls in the year 2030, where a significant quantum of the spectrum, i.e. 550 MHz, is set to expire. The next significant quantum of spectrum expiry happens in 2034, followed by 2035 and 2036, when 194.4 MHz of the spectrum is set to expire. Read ahead to see complete details.

Highlights

  • Spectrum expiry timelines are equally essential as spectrum holdings as telcos need to prepare for upcoming auctions, plan investments, finetune network.
  • Understand that the spectrum is paired (2x) in FDD Bands and unpaired (1x) in TDD Bands.
  • Vodafone Idea has 12.4 MHz of spectrum set to expire in 2024.

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Airtel Vodafone Idea Jio Spectrum Details

The spectrum expiry timelines are equally essential as spectrum holdings as telcos need to prepare for upcoming auctions, plan investments, finetune network (although it is a continuous process) and much more so that any change will not impact the consumer experience.

In this story, we will analyse the aggregate quantum of the spectrum (across all the bands and circles) that is going to expire along with expiry years for Airtel, Jio and Vodafone Idea on a high level. In which year, what quantum of the spectrum will be coming to expiry forms the base of this story.

Technically, the quantum of spectrum expiring in a particular band, spectrum kind, the quantum of spectrum and technology deployed, and real-case coverage challenges can be some significant factors when considering the expiry aspects.

Before we proceed further, as spectrum is a complicated topic, you need to be aware of a few basics to understand further, and we have put forward some pointers for the same.

Bands in which Telcos Operate as of Today:

Airtel - 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, and 2300 MHz Bands.

Jio - 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 2300 MHz Bands.

Vodafone Idea - 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, and 2500 MHz Bands.

FDD Bands (2x) : 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz.

TDD Bands (x) : 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz.

For now, understand that the spectrum is paired (2x) in FDD Bands and unpaired (1x) in TDD Bands. So, the values depend on the presentation and convention used to put forward the FDD band spectrum numbers.

For example: If a telco holds 5 MHz of spectrum in the 900 MHz Band, technically, it means 5 MHz in the uplink and 5 MHz in the downlink and amounts to 10 MHz total spectrum holdings that are considered even for spectrum cap references.

If a telco holds 10 MHz of spectrum in the 2300 MHz Band, technically as well, the spectrum holdings amount to 10 MHz as it is unpaired. We shall discuss the paired and unpaired aspects in a separate story.

In this story, the general convention of presentation of spectrum numbers is followed. Hence holdings in the FDD bands are just represented as 5 MHz if we consider the above example.

So, the aggregate value for the above example is presented as 5 (paired) + 10 (unpaired) = 15 MHz.

So, please be thoughtful about the spectrum and aggregated values presented.

Band Wise Spectrum Holdings Expiry Timeline:

Spectrum Expiry

Band 800:

This band was once popularly known as the CDMA band in India. Coming to the present, Jio holds a major share of the spectrum in this band and is its only sub-1 GHz carrier band.

Airtel holds spectrum in this band but is confined only to 4 circles with 5 MHz in each circle. Airtel can offer 4G Data and voice services using this spectrum holding. A significant quantum of Airtel's spectrum holdings, i.e. 16.25 MHz, are set to expire in the year 2041, while a significant portion of Jio's spectrum holdings in this band is set to expire in the years 2035 and 2041.

Band 900:

This band was once a gold standard for 2G voice and coverage, and subsequently, telcos used the refarmed band for offering 4G to improve coverage and indoor experience.

Airtel and Vodafone Idea hold a major share of the spectrum in this band. Airtel holds 142.8 MHz, whereas Vodafone Idea holds 141.2 MHz of spectrum in this band. Major holdings of spectrum in this band by Vodafone Idea and Airtel are set to expire in the years 2034 and 2035.

Band 1800:

This band was once a standard for 2.75G - EDGE data speeds in the 2G era. However, it is now refarmed as a band that supports a mixture of coverage and capacity for 4G services.

Vodafone Idea (348 MHz) and Airtel ( 303.25 MHz) hold a major share of the spectrum in this band, followed by Jio. 2032, 2034, 2036 and 2041 are the years when significant portions of the spectrum for all the three telcos will be expiring.

Band 2100:

Traditionally known as the 3G carrier band in India, Airtel and Vodafone Idea hold a major quantum of the spectrum, i.e. 185 MHz and 195 MHz, respectively, in this band. The year 2030 is when a significant portion of the spectrum is set to expire for both airtel (110 MHz) and Vodafone Idea (100 MHz).

Band 2300:

Known as the gold standard band for 4G services. This band serves as the capacity band for delivering those massive data offerings after the 1800 MHz band.

Jio leads with its spectrum holdings of 880 MHz in this band, followed by Airtel with 790 MHz of holdings. Vodafone Idea holds 30 MHz in this band, with 10 MHz each in its three leading circles. The year 2030 sets the stage for the start of the expiry of the spectrum in this band, followed by 2036 and 2041.

Band 2500:

Vodafone Idea is the only private telco to hold spectrum in this band for offering 4G services, and the entire spectrum, i.e. 370 MHz in this band, is set to expire in the year 2036.

Aggregate Quantum of Spectrum Expiry Across all the Bands:

Three years on focus for now: 2030, 2036 and 2041.

Airtel:

Airtel has 41.8 MHz spectrum, a mixture of liberalised and unliberailsed, set to expire near term in 2024, and the next expiry year falls in the year 2030, where a significant quantum of the spectrum, i.e. 550 MHz, is set to expire. The next significant quantum of spectrum expiry happens in 2034, followed by 2035 and 2036, when 194.4 MHz of the spectrum is set to expire. In the year 2041, 355.45 MHz of the spectrum is set to expire.

Jio:

Jio has nothing to think about spectrum expiry until the year 2030, when a significant quantum of the spectrum, i.e. 440 MHz, is set to expire.
2036 and 2041 are the next significant years where a significant quantum of the spectrum is set to expire, i.e. 208.35 MHz and 488.35 MHz, respectively.

Vodafone Idea:

Vodafone Idea has 12.4 MHz of spectrum set to expire in 2024, followed by 35.2 MHz in 2026 and 4.4 MHz in 2027. The year 2030 is one significant year for Airtel and Jio for spectrum expiry, and for Vodafone Idea too, 100 MHz is set to expire in the same year. A major portion of Vodafone Idea's spectrum holdings, i.e. 561.6 MHz, is set to expire in the year 2036.

The image is self-explanatory. Care is taken to avoid any data discrepancy issues. Please report any errors in case found.

For specific details such as spectrum expiry years, the quantum of the spectrum, and bands circle-wise, please refer to the Spectrum sheet.

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Tanay is someone with whom you can chill and talk about technology and life. A fitness enthusiast and cricketer, he loves to read and write.

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