Reliance Jio Wants 5G Spectrum Auctioned Immediately, But Airtel Only Wants Swift 4G Auction

Airtel and Vodafone Idea are unhappy about the push coming from Reliance Jio, this time for immediate auction of 5G spectrum. While Airtel wants 4G auction soon and 5G auction later, Vodafone-Idea does not want any auction for another two years.


Smartphones with 5G connectivity will start hitting the market starting next year. Apple, Samsung, and OnePlus are reportedly bringing 5G phones in 2019. But when will a 5G network come to India? Well, if billionaire Mukesh Ambani has his way, very soon. Reliance Jio has asked the Government of India to auction all 5G spectrum right away and has even agreed to the pricing suggested by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Unsurprisingly, though, both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel are strongly opposed to this idea. These companies want the 5G spectrum auction to be shelved until 2020. No matter which way the Ministry of Communications sways, there will be big losers and big winners in this game, as not all parties are equally equipped to accept a challenge as mammoth as setting up the futuristic 5G network this soon.

A Supreme Court Order Could Mean Early Sale Of 5G Spectrum

The Supreme Court of India is also involved here, and it wants the government to ensure that all spectrum is auctioned off as and when available. Since 5G spectrum is available with the government, it could be seen as a loss to the exchequer if the central government sits on it.

The Economic Times quoted former Department of Telecommunications official S.S. Sirohi as saying, “The Supreme Court has told the government to auction whatever spectrum is available with it and the government also gave an undertaking to the apex court to do so. It can’t hoard spectrum.”

Reliance Jio has officially rejected all recommendations from Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for delaying the auction of 5G spectrum. According to ET, the president of Reliance Jio, Mathew Oommen, has made it clear that Jio is interested in buying more spectrum and that it is expecting the government to auction off the available spectrum, including 5G, at the earliest.

Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel Want More Time for 5G Spectrum

The recent merger of former rivals Idea and Vodafone has made the new enterprise the biggest market share holder in the telecom industry. However, Vodafone Idea does not seem to be ready for any more spectrum auctions now, not even 4G spectrum. According to reports, Vodafone Idea has asked for there to be no spectrum auctions until financial year 2020. Moreover, it has asked the government to take new measures to fix the debt-burdened telecom industry. The debt in question is more than INR 7 lakh crore.

On the other hand, Bharti Airtel, which still is ahead of Jio but has been rendered second in market share, thanks to the Vodafone Idea merger, has asked the government to auction 4G spectrum at the earliest. The 5G spectrum, according to Airtel, should be auctioned, no earlier than 2020.

5G Spectrum Auction Likely in 2019

The government, for its part, has not announced any timeline for the inevitable 5G spectrum auction. However, officials have said that the auction is likely to be held in late 2019. The next general elections will be held in India in 2019, and that could drive the government to auction the 5G spectrum even if major players like Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel are not ready, the report by Economic Times suggests, quoting anonymous sources in the Department of Telecommunications.

However, officials also seem to believe that 2019 is too early for the 5G spectrum auction since the industry is deep in debt and the auction will only mean more debt for the major players such as Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel.