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Union Cabinet approves spectrum auctions, no 5G airwaves to be sold

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a round of auctions for spectrum to telecom operators, to be held in March 2021. A total of 2,251.25 MHz of spectrum is up for auction at a reserve price of ₹3.92 lakh crore. No 5G spectrum is up for auction in this round, where telcos are more likely to spar over additional spectrum to boost their airwaves to better manage existing 4G data demand.

“The auction will be for spectrum in 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz frequency bands. Spectrum will be offered for assignment for validity period of 20 years. A total of 2251.25 MHz is being offered with total valuation of Rs. 3,92,332.70 crore (at reserve price).” — Government statement

The high reserve price is a bit of a pain point for the industry, which — save for Jio — isn’t too keen on getting on the 5G train anytime soon. Even without that technology, though, telcos are at best cautiously optimistic about the upcoming auctions.

The Cellular Operators Association of India’s director general Lt. Gen. SP Kochhar said in an emailed statement that “While the Govt. has addressed the requirement for more spectrum, lower reserve prices would have provided additional resources for network expansion to the Telcos. High reserve prices in past auctions have resulted in large amounts of spectrum remaining unsold. We hope the Govt. will take additional measures to boost the financial health of the industry.”

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