Bharti Buys $2.6 Billion of Airwaves in Fight to Woo Users
Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)

Bharti Buys $2.6 Billion of Airwaves in Fight to Woo Users

Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s second-largest wireless carrier by subscribers, will spend $2.6 billion acquiring new airwaves in an ongoing spectrum auction in India.

The carrier, led by billionaire Sunil Mittal, acquired airwaves worth 186.99 billion rupees ($2.55 billion), according to a statement from the company Tuesday. It added 355.45 megahertz to its spectrum portfolio and can now reach 90 million additional customers, it said. Shares rose as much as 2.2% after the announcement, most in over a week.

The ongoing spectrum auction that raised 771.5 billion rupees as of Monday is a boost to the exchequer as the government tries to jump start the economy after the pandemic-induced recession last year. The newly acquired airwaves will also bolster Bharti’s telecom infrastructure as it gears to roll out 5G services in the country and claw back market share from top rival, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.

While Reliance Jio’s investment in the latest airwave auction -- first one since 2016 -- is eagerly anticipated by investors, Vodafone Idea Ltd. said in a filing Tuesday that it has won spectrum in five zones in India, without disclosing how much it spent.

The auctions have come at a time when Bharti and Vodafone’s local unit are trying to pare debt and repair their balance sheets after Reliance Jio entered in 2016 with free calls and ultra-cheap data, unleashing a tariff war that shrank the sector from a dozen wireless operators to just three private sector carriers. Reliance Jio’s older rivals were also asked last year to cough up billions of dollars in past dues to the government.

Bharti has seen a turnaround recently but Vodafone Idea is still unprofitable and is looking to raise funds.

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