The government may not hold telecom spectrum auctions this year as there is limited interest from telecom operators who have enough spectrum holdings right now, senior officials have said.
“We are ready for the spectrum auctions but there should be buyers for that. We will start working on the consultation papers only after telecom players communicate their interests. There is no demand yet from any of the telecom operators. We want auctions to take place every year so that government can generate some money but without demand, how can we?,” a senior official at Department of Telecommunications (DoT) told businessline.
Last year, the Centre had announced that spectrum auctions will be held every year to offer unbidden radiowaves or additional airwaves, which could help the government to generate revenue.
According to sources from the industry, the government may drop the plan to auction spectrum during FY24 because of the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, as it would focus more on preparations for the elections.
“Since 2024 will be an election year, the government is likely to focus more on other developmental projects rather than the spectrum auctions. Also, because telcos have enough spectrum right now for their 4G networks and 5G rollouts are just happening, there is unlikely to be a pressing demand for it,” said an industry veteran.
For Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), the government will provide whatever is required for the expansion of their networks because they don’t have to bid for the auctions, the industry veteran said.
“We will have a discussion with the industry and see if they require more spectrum for expansion of their networks. If not, then there is no point going for another round of auctions,” said another senior official at DoT.
Last year, the spectrum auction took place between July 26 and August 1. The bidding, which lasted seven days, fetched the government ₹1,50,173 crore.
A total of 72,097.85 MHz of spectrum with a validity period of 20 years were put to auction in various Low (600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, and 2300 MHz), Mid (3300 MHz), and High (26 GHz) frequency bands.
Reliance Jio (RJio) emerged as the highest bidder, which bought radiowaves worth ₹88,078 crore. RJio bought 24,740 MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2500MHz, 3300MHz, and 26GHz.
Bharti Airtel was the second highest bidder that bought 19,867 MHz of spectrum worth ₹43,084 crore in 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 3300MHz, and 26GHz.
Vodafone Idea bought spectrum worth ₹18,799 crore in 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2500MHz, 3300MHz, and 26GHz with a total of 6,288MHz airwaves.
For the first time, Gautam Adani (for Adani Data Network) also entered the auctions and bought 400MHz of spectrum in 26GHz worth ₹212 crore in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra (Mumbai), Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu.
The sale value on the base reserve prices was around ₹4.50 lakh crore, which was one of the highest in the history of telecom spectrum auctions and 75 per cent of the airwaves put in the auction was sold in last year’s auctions.