5G Auction: Record Rs 1.5 lakh cr bids; Jio top bidder

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio acquired close to half of all the airwaves sold in the latest auction for Rs 88,078 crore

New Delhi: After a competitive bidding battle that lasted an entire week, India’s first-ever mega 5G spectrum auction finally ended on Monday, with spectrum worth a total of Rs 1,50,173 crores being sold to telecom companies. The auction saw about 71 per cent of total spectrum bid out in the latest auction. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio was the top bidder, winning a bid of over Rs 88,000 crores to consolidate its leadership position in the telecom space. Bharti Airtel, cash-strapped Vodafone Idea and Adani Data Networks came second, third and fourth respectively in the bidding for their priority circles.

Briefing the media after the final day’s auction on Monday, telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio emerged as the largest bidder for the 5G spectrum, acquiring close to half of all the airwaves sold in the latest auction for Rs 88,078 crores, while the Adani group bought only 400 MHz, or less than one per cent of all spectrum sold, for Rs 212 crores.

“Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Airtel was the second-highest bidder with 19,867 MHz spectrum in various bands worth Rs 43,084 crores, while Vodafone Idea snapped up 2,668 MHz worth Rs 18,784 crores. The total bids worth Rs 1,50,173 crores for 71 per cent of the total bids of 72,098 MHz of spectrum offered across 10 bands in this latest auction,” the minister said, adding the government in the first year will get Rs 13,365 crores in payment for the spectrum, and 5G services could be launched by October this year.

While the Adani group bought spectrum in the 26 GHz band, which is not for public networks, Jio acquired spectrum across several bands, including the coveted 700 MHz band that can provide 6-10 km of signal range and forms a good base for fifth generation or 5G in all 22 circles in the country.

Sources said both Bharti and Jio have built a pan-India spectrum footprint for 5G, with Vodafone Idea’s and Adani Data Networks participating selectively in the bidding. While the government had put on offer spectrum in 10 bands, it got no bids for high-priced airwaves in 600 MHz, 800 MHz and 2300 MHz bands.

At the end of the auction, the mop-up from the 5G spectrum is estimated to be almost double of the Rs 77,815 crores worth 4G airwaves sold last year, and triple of the Rs 50,968.37 crores garnered from the 3G auction in 2010. “About two-thirds of the bids were offered for the 5G bands (3300 Mhz and 26 GHz), while more than a quarter of the demand came in the 700 Mhz band -- a band that had gone unsold in the previous two auctions (2016 and 2021),” the sources added.

The mega 5G spectrum action kicked off last Tuesday with bidding over Rs 1.45 lakh crore on Day 1. The auction was stretched to seven days because of the bidding fight over UP East circle among participants. The UP East circle -- which includes Lucknow, Allahabad, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Kanpur -- saw bidding activity pick up once again for 1800 MHz, a band primarily used by telcos for 4G services. UP East -- which has over 10 crore mobile subscribers -- accounted for all the incremental spectrum sales on Sunday, amid a pitched battle for radio waves among players such as Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel.

As of May this year, Reliance Jio had 3.29 mobile subscribers in UP East, Bharti Airtel (3.7 crore) and Vodafone Idea (2.02 crore). “The bidding intensity for 1800 MHz band in Uttar Pradesh East circle had peaked between Wednesday and Friday, then subsided somewhat Saturday. On Sunday, however, renewed interest was seen and demand flared once again outstripping the spectrum supply,” the sources said.

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