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2G Auction News Roundup: New Auction For Freed Licenses; Vodafone & Airtel Challenge Auction Plans

New Auction For Freed Up Licenses

Department of Telecommunication (DoT) has announced (pdf) that it will be conducting a separate round of auctions for licenses in the 1800MHz spectrum that freed up due to the Supreme Court order earlier this month and were not included in the upcoming 2G spectrum auction. The organization however noted that the details of the auction is still being worked out and a separate notice inviting application (NIA) will be issued shortly.

Last week, Supreme Court had issued an order directing all operators who did not win spectrum in the November auctions to close down services immediately. Following this, telecom operator Uninor was forced to shut down its operations in Mumbai immediately.

Airtel And Vodafone Challenge Government’s Auction Plans

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India have approached the Delhi High Court to challenge the government’s plan to auction the 900MHz spectrum band, reports Reuters. The report however states that its not clear when the Delhi High Court will hear its plea.

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Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India currently use the 900MHz frequency band in some of the areas. However, the government of India had announced plans to auction airwaves in the 900MHz spectrum band along with 1800Mhz and 800MHz spectrum band in March.

In December 2012, reports suggested that DoT had plans of putting up about 24 blocks of spectrum for auction. What’s particularly noteworthy was that DoT had suggested that existing operators whose licences are up for renewal in 2014, should be considered as new players, mandating them to bid for a minimum of four blocks in both 1800 MHz and 900 MHz band in the lucrative Delhi and Mumbai circles and allowing them to purchase more than five slots of spectrum in the auction. This move was expected to affect existing operators like Airtel and Vodafone who might be forced to participate in the auctions to retain their licenses in Delhi and Mumbai circles.

In a statement to the publication, Vodafone claimed that it is entitled to a license extension in those circles where it operates in the 900MHz spectrum band as per mutually agreeable terms. The base price for the spectrum in the 900MHz band is also doubled in price than the 1800MHz band by the government. Bidding for the 900MHz band would mean that Vodafone and Airtel would have to pump in additional investment for technology.

Sistema To Participate in 2G Spectrum Auction

Sistema Shyam Teleservices (MTS India) has officially announced that it will participate in the forthcoming spectrum action in March. Earlier week, the telco had noted that it had filed an application in the Supreme Court in January 2013, stating that it intends to participate in upcoming auctions in March 2013.

While the telco had noted that it wasn’t affected by the recent Supreme court order, since the order was related to telecom operators who had not participated in the November spectrum auction and only GSM auctions were conducted in November, Sistema has apparently written to the government seeking a temporary licence  till the time auction process is completed, in case Supreme Court orders it to close operations, according to a The Hindu Business Line Report.

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2G Spectrum Allocation Timeline

Here’s a timeline of events following the Supreme Court Verdict in the 2G Spectrum Allocation Scam case:

– Feb 2, 2012: Supreme Court cancels 122 licenses of 22 operators and directed the Government to conduct fresh auctions for sale of the spectrum within a period of four months, asking the TRAI to come up with fresh recommendations.

– March 5, 2012: The Indian government files a review petition in the Supreme Court in response to the Court’s verdict in the 2G spectrum allocation case, asking the court to only review the part of the order where it had deemed the ‘ first-come-first-serve’ spectrum allocation policy of the government flawed.

– April 24, 2012: The TRAI comes out with recommendations on spectrum reserve price, and also proposes refarming in the 900MHz band, and liberalization of spectrum. Telcos express dismay as they feel the price is steep.

– April 24, 2012: The Supreme Court extends the deadline for the auction of 2G licenses which were cancelled by it, from June to 31st August 2012, and asks telcos whose licenses were cancelled to continue services till 7th September.

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– July 5, 2012: The Department of  Telecom (DoT) posts a notice on its website announcing guidelines for the upcoming 2G spectrum auction,  including eligibility, amount of spectrum and number of blocks, however, it did not announce the minimum bidding price for the auction.

– July 24, 2012: Reports suggest that the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), the minister panel responsible for finalizing rules for the upcoming 2G spectrum auction, has recommended a reserve price of Rs 14,111 crore and Rs 15,111 crore for a block of 5 MHz of spectrum in the 1800 MHz band on a pan-India basis.

– August 3, 2012: India’s Cabinet of Ministers sets 2G auction price.

– August 27, 2012: Supreme Court extends the 2G Auction Deadline from August 31, 2012 to Jan 11, 2013. The court also allows service providers whose licenses were cancelled to continue operations till 18th January 2013, extending the earlier deadline of 7th September 2012.

– November 5, 2012: Tata Teleservices and Videocon Telecommunications withdraw its respective bids for CDMA Spectrum, leaving no qualified bidders for the CDMA spectrum in the 2G spectrum auctions.

– November 15, 2012: The 2G auction concludes in just two days and the government ended up raising just Rs 9,407 crore with only five participants, of which only two were among those whose licenses had been canceled. It was also indicated that the Government was able to sell only 42.37% of the total spectrum that was put up for the 2G auction.

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– November 26, 2012: Tata Teleservices (TTSL) announces shutdown of its operations in Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and the Assam regions from January 18, 2013.

– December 10, 2012: Sistema Shyam Teleservices (MTS India) sets a deadline to the Indian government to formulate a strategy to resolve its 2G license cancellation issue in the country. The company told Medianama that this was to ensure protection of over USD 3.2 billion investments made in Sistema Shyam Teleservices Ltd.

– December 10, 2012: Empowered group of ministers (EGoM) lowers the reserve price by 30% for the Delhi, Mumbai, Karnataka and Rajasthan circles in 1800 MHz band after these circles didn’t attract any bidders in the 2G auction due to high pricing. Following this reduction, the government had set a new reserve price of Rs 12,000 crore for a block of 5 MHz of spectrum in the 1800 MHz band on a pan-India basis.

– December 18, 2012: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) directs Tata Teleservices, Unitech Wireless, Videocon Telecommunications and Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL) to inform the date of discontinuation of its services to all its subscribers in circles where the telcos has lost licenses to operate due to the Supreme Court Judgement.

– December 21, 2012: Reports suggested that the Department of Telecom is planning to auction about 24 blocks of spectrum in the next auction round, which includes 12 blocks of 1.25 MHz in the 1800 MHz spectrum band and 12 blocks of 1.25 MHz in the 900 MHz spectrum band. Telecom minister Kapil Sibal stated that the auction in the 1800MHz band and the 900MHz band will be held simultaneously.

– January 15, 2013: Supreme Court had allowed telecom operators whose licenses were cancelled following the Court’s judgement in the 2G scam case, to continue operations till February 4, 2013 from the previous deadline of January 18, 2013. The court had apparently sought details on the reserve price being set for the March auction and fixed February 4, 2013 as the next date of hearing for the case.

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– January 18, 2013: Union Cabinet had approved a 50% Reduction in 2G reserve prices for CDMA spectrum.

– January 24, 2013: DoT had issued guidelines for 2G Spectrum Auction in March 2013.

February 19, 2013: Telecom operator Uninor was forced to shut down its operations in Mumbai immediately, following a Supreme Court order last week which directed all operators who did not win spectrum in the November auctions to close down services immediately.

(By Apurva Chaudhary and Vikas SN)

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