The greatly delayed auction could finally take place in summer, but the topic of the spectrum’s pricing remains controversial

India’s first 5G spectrum auction has been delayed by over two years now, first impacted by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and since then by major disagreements between the Indian operators and regulatory bodies. 

Since late 2021, it has been clear that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been aiming for the auction to finally take place in late 2022, with suggestions being made that the date would be set for late August or September. 

Now, however, it seems that the auction may take place even sooner, with telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw today suggesting that it could happen as early as June. 

"We are very much as per our timeline to conduct the auction," noted the minister.

Reaching this goal seems ambitious, however, given that there still appears to be huge disagreement between the government and the telecoms industry surrounding the issue of spectrum pricing.

The Indian operators have long complained about the spectrum’s high cost, which many telcos have noted are far higher than those seen in other markets around the world. In response, TRAI has argued that the 5G pricing is in fact among the lowest in the world on a per capita basis, though the operators lambasted this metric as inappropriate, noting the differences in wealth of various global populations, reflecting their ability to pay for a telco’s 5G services. 

As a result of these high prices, some operators have even suggested that they would not bid at all if the reserve price is not significantly reduced. 

After two years of dogged refusal to budge on price, in recent months, the Indian government is finally becoming more receptive to the idea of lower prices. In fact, TRAI has recommended that the base price for spectrum in the 3.3-3.67 GHz band be cut by 36%, while spectrum in the 700 MHz band be reduced by 40%. 

Whether or not the Department of Telecommunications will actually heed this advice is yet to be seen, but it seems unlikely that the government will force through an auction in which the participants are loathe to participate. 


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