Telecom Companies May Have Limited Participation In 5G Spectrum Auction
An illuminated 5G sign hangs behind a weave of electronic cables. (Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg)

Telecom Companies May Have Limited Participation In 5G Spectrum Auction


India's reserve price of $ 70 million per megahertz is "expensive", and will force Vodafone Idea Ltd. and Bharti Airtel Ltd. to participate in 5G spectrum auctions in a "limited" way, global rating agency Fitch said on Monday.

The comments come weeks after nearly all the telecom companies had expressed their concerns on the spectrum pricing. "The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s 5G spectrum price for spectrum band of 3300-3600 Mhz of $ 70 million per Mhz is expensive compared with 3G and 4G spectrum auctions in the past," the agency said in a note.

It said Indian telcos, which are already stretched, will have to shell out $7 billion for a pan-India license with 100 Mhz of spectrum. The agency said it is unlikely for the auction to be undertaken in 2019. In June, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that government is likely to hold the auction this year and also start trials in the next 100 days.

Also read: Telecom Department Issues Guidelines For 5G Trials Across All Available Spectrum Bands

Fitch said the auction will only likely to happen in the second half of 2020 as the government and TRAI will require time to prepare. "We expect limited participation in the 5G spectrum auctions by Bharti and Vodafone Idea given the expensive spectrum and limited business case of 5G in the short to medium term," it said.

The agency said 5G may have only limited commercial viability in the short term, as 4G penetration is still low in India and there is little appealing content or applications which cannot be addressed by 4G speeds.

Also, Indian telcos lack extensive intra-city fibre infrastructure, which is responsible for poor internet experience relative to other markets and is also critical in order to provide a seamless 5G experience, it said.

In the report focused on Bharti Airtel, the agency said the third biggest telco by subscribers will earmark $1 billion towards upfront 5G spectrum payments in FY20. The agency said it has a stable rating on Bharti's 'BBB-' rating as it feels the average revenue per user are on the way up and also due to de-leveraging work through the sale of non-core assets by the company.

Despite the experience of the last two years, where the entry of the deep-pocketed Reliance Jio wrecked the telecom market, the agency said it expects competition to ease as three broadly equally sized telcos have emerged, each with a 31-33 percent revenue market share.

"We expect the blended average tariff to rise by 5-10 percent during FY20, underpinned by the incumbents' introduction of a minimum mobile tariff of Rs 35," it said. This estimate was attributed to expectation of Jio starting to raise tariffs gradually as it starts to focus on monetisation of its large investment.

Also read: Top Telecom Firms Oppose Premium Spectrum Allocation To Indian Railways

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