Contrary to initial expectations, the 5G spectrum auction has stretched from two days to the 4th day today. The government has received total bids worth ₹1,49,623 crore in 16 rounds so far.

"The 5G spectrum auction stretches to 4th day; bids worth ₹1,49,623 crore received on 3rd day," says telecom and communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

The 5G spectrum auction for ultra high-speed internet service is reportedly stuck over telcos' battle for grabbing the spectrum of the 1,800 MHz bands of UPE.

There has been aggressive bidding from all three major players -- Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea -- to acquire the spectrum in this circle as all have huge subscriber bases in this circle. Telcos have even gone beyond the base price for bidding in the 1,800 MHz bands in UP East.

The government has said that it aims to start the 5G services in India by September-October. The fifth-generation or 5G network will allow data transmission at a very high speed -- about 10 times -- than the current 4G network, due to its low latency.

Overall, the government seems to have received strong interest from bidders from Day 1, contrary to initial expectations of the Centre collecting a revenue of ₹80,000-₹1 lakh crore from the 5G auctions, it seems to have generated much more.

In order to attract strong responses from bidders, the government slashed the prices of some airwaves by 40%. The successful bidders can make payments in 20 equal annual instalments rather than paying upfront. Plus there were no spectrum usage charges (SUC) for the 5G spectrum, providing significant relief to them in terms of the operating cost.

However, the industry will take time to come out of the crisis. As per ratings agency ICRA, debt continues to remain a vulnerable point for the industry and its total debt is likely to increase after the 5G rollout.

"ICRA expects industry debt levels to increase to around ₹5.7 lakh crore as of March 31, 2023, before moderating to ₹5.3 lakh crore as of March 31, 2025," says the ratings agency in its June 2022 report.

However, 5G is also a huge opportunity for telcos. Finnish telecommunications major Nokia in this year's report says 5G will play a major role in connecting the unconnected and advancing India to become a $1-trillion digital economy by 2025. Key 5G use cases in India will be in the domains of innovation, digitisation and innovation, says the Nokia annual Mobile Broadband Index (MBiT) report.

With a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53% over the last five years, India has one of the highest data usages in the world.

India recorded the highest-ever shipment of over 160 million smartphones, including 30 million 5G devices in 2021, with active 4G capable devices crossing 80% and the number of active 5G capable devices, crossing 10 million.

The auction is being held conducted in the low-frequency bands of 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, and 2,300 MHz; mid-frequency band of 3,300 MHz; and a high-frequency band of 26 GHz.

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