India’s largest telecom spectrum auction is over, and the government’s made some serious money.
The big surprise, however, was the somewhat tepid response from telecom operators. The auction was expected to be competitive since the highest-quality 700 Mhz spectrum band, ideal for 4G services, was going under the hammer for the first time. But, eventually, it received no bids, partly because of the sky-high pricing.
“The lack of enthusiasm was majorly due to its unrealistic pricing, high debt and single-digit growth that the industry is currently reeling under,” Cellular Operators Association of India, an industry lobby group, told Bloomberg.
The government seems unfazed, though.
“Maybe the operators are not ready… it is not that the 700MHz is running away," Manoj Sinha, India’s minister of state for communication, told The Hindu. "If it was not sold this time, it will be next time… we are happy that the upfront payment we will get is the highest ever, in the last five years.”
Telecom operators in Asia’s third-largest economy are already under the pressure of piling debt – currently at Rs 4.1 lakh crore – curtailing their capacity to splurge.
Nonetheless, fuelled by the newly-acquired airwaves, competition is about to intensify. The entry of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio has already ruffled feathers with its cheap internet and free voice calls. In response, others are building up their war chests. Last month, for instance, Vodafone India’s parent firm pumped in equity worth $7 billion to help it buy more spectrum and bolster its infrastructure.
This article first appeared on Quartz.