India's 3G auction raises $15b

Nicole McCormick
20 May 2010
Daily News

After 34 days, India’s 3G spectrum auctions ended yesterday with total bids reaching almost $15 billion, way beyond government expectations.

The government will reap 677.1 billion rupees ($14.7 billion) from the 2100MHz auction alone, compared with the 350 billion rupees it forecast from both the country’s 3G and Broadband Wireless Access spectrum auctions (the latter is due begin on Friday).

The biggest spender was India’s largest cellco Bharti Airtel which picked up spectrum in 13 circles including Mumbai and Delhi, for 122.95 billion rupees.

Vodafone was next, winning spectrum in nine circles for 116.18 billion rupees, followed by Reliance Communications which successfully bid 85.85 billion rupees for 13 regions.

Aircel will pay about 65 billion rupees for spectrum in 13 second-and third-tier circles, while Idea Cellular won spectrum in 11 service areas for 57.69 billion.

Leading operators reneged on plans to bid for spectrum in all 22 circles, as aggressive bidding pushed the price tag for pan-Indian spectrum to $3.6 billion.

Analysts had forecast a pan-Indian footprint would cost in the region of $1.3 billion.

“The auction format and severe spectrum shortage along with ensuing policy uncertainty drove the prices beyond reasonable levels,” said Bharti.

“As a result, we could not achieve our objective of a pan-India 3G footprint in this round.”

"The fact that most of the companies have not gone and done blanket bidding [for all circles]…clearly shows that each operator has invested in circles where they…have a strong presence,” Manesh Patel, partner with Ernst & Young toldBusiness Standard.

“This will enable the companies to monetise the spectrum in the long run."

One analyst told it could take 8-10 years for operators to recover their 3G investment.

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