Indian Telecom Story (Part XXXI): Government rings in Rs.1 trillion from 3G and BWA auctions!
The spectrum auction for broadband wireless access (BWA) services fetched the Government of India an unprecedented Rs.38.543.61 crores (USD 8.56 billion) after 16 days and 117 rounds of auction. 11 companies were a part of the auction. The pan India licence price stood at Rs. 12,847.77 crore ( USD 2.85 billion), which was 634% (6 times) the base price set by GoI at Rs.1,750 crore. Unlike the 3G event, Infotel Broadband won a pan India license, while Aircel bagged 7 slots, Tikona got 5 slots, Qualcomm and Bharti 4 each and Augere 1. The others failed to pick up any stakes in the BWA circles. The total revenue of the government from sale of spectrum for both 3G and BWA touched over Rs.1.06 lakh crore. Reliance Communication, Tata Communications, Vodafone Essar, Spice,and Idea missed picking up even a single circle.
BWA spectrum is essentially for rolling out WiMAX services enabling handheld devices and laptops to access Internet.
GoI has been pushing for more widespread access to broadband usage in the country which is at a paltry 9% of the population currently. McKinsey study projected that a country GDP improves by 0.6% for every 10% increase in penetration levels of Broadband.
1. The high prices (above expectations) paid in both auctions, which were too rich for several major cellular operators who dropped out of the second BWA auction, ease the strain on the country’s public sector deficit for this fiscal year.
2. At the same time they exacerbate the financial difficulties of the two state-owned operators BSNL and MTNL which although automatically awarded both 3G and BWA spectrum are obliged to pay the same amounts for their spectrum as the winning bidders.
3. Furthermore, the outcomes of these auctions introduce additional players into India’s mobile market, whose supply structure, absent consolidation, is already unsustainable with an uneconomically large number of competitors.
4. The real impact and value of allocating this new spectrum for mobile broadband will depend upon sensible consolidation between operators – which will require a change in M&A regulations – and the establishment of roaming arrangements between operators.
5. The combination of very high spectrum prices (e.g. $1.34 per MHz/pop for 20 MHz of BWA spectrum at 2.3GHz in Delhi) will intensify the pressure that winning bidders will exert on the prices offered by equipment vendors for network rollouts to minimize capex, while the need for intercircle roaming agreements will favor technologies that are widely supported.
6. Qualcomm which won BWA spectrum in 4 circles – including Delhi and Mumbai – will be looking for roaming agreements with operators in other circles that deploy either WCDMA 3G (Qualcomm is the pioneering supplier of 3G/LTE chipsets) and/or TD-LTE networks.
7. Infotel Broadband is being acquired by Reliance Industries Ltd. This thus enables Mukesh Ambani who was barred under a family non-compete agreement from entering the telecom sector to re-enter and establish himself in the telecom sector.
8. Qualcomm which won BWA spectrum in 4 circles – including Delhi and Mumbai – will be looking for roaming agreements with operators in other circles that deploy either WCDMA 3G (Qualcomm is the pioneering supplier of 3G/LTE chipsets) and/or TD-LTE networks.
9. Infotel’s (Reliance) choice of technology will be critical in terms of introduction of TD-LTE. It will be influenced by Infotel’s ability to offer roaming as long as its network does not have nationwide coverage, as well as by the pricing of alternative technologies, and even the availability of international roaming arrangements (since target customers for mobile broadband customers will include the most internationally active of Indian customers).