India delays 5G and 4G spectrum auctions

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India has confirmed it is to delay auctions for 4G and 5G spectrum scheduled for this financial year and, while some analysts have put the delay down to the logistical challenges posed by Covid-19 lockdowns, others have noted that the decision has bought time for cash-strapped operators and regulators conflicted over the involvement of Huawei.

The auction, scheduled for Q1 this year financial year, was originally intended to include both 4G and 5G spectrum. At ₹492 crore per MHz, 6,050MHz had been allocated for 5G with the 3,300-3,600MHz band, although some have said the price is too high, including Bharti Airtel.

The revised plans still include a 4G auction although a new date is yet to be confirmed.  

Analysts warned in February that Coronavirus could delay auctions in India as the government battled logistical challenges posed by lockdowns, and carriers assessed their ability to participate.

However, confirmation of the delay - via the office of telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad - comes after a difficult few weeks for operators in the country.

Mobile telecoms companies started 2020 by lobbying the government over its 2019 decision to recalculate how it charges AGR. In February, Vodafone Idea said it couldn’t pay the $4 billion then owed in spectrum and other charges and even US satellite operator Hughes Network Systems threatened bankruptcy.

According to the most recent calculations, the country’s top telcos owe around US$54.46 billion.


Earlier in the auction process, Reliance Jio has submitted an application for a 5G field trial with Samsung Electronics and Vodafone Idea and Airtel submitted applications with Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE and Huawei – posing regulatory questions, despite Huawei’s involvement in India’s 3G and 4G networks.

In February, during a visit to India, US president Trump discussed a 5G collaboration with India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.

“I believe that the United States should be India’s premier defence partner,” said Trump. “The deal would include procurement of 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters by India. Another contract to acquire six AH-64E Apache helicopters," he said.

“I am optimistic that working together, the prime minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that is good and even great for both of our countries.”

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