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Battle for 3G licences in India hots up

28 апреля 2010

Bids in India’s auctions of third-generation mobile phone spectrum are rising beyond levels considered by some as “rational”, as international and domestic cellular operators battle for first place in the world’s fastest-growing telecoms market.

The government said on Tuesday night that the price of a pan-India allocation of spectrum had reached Rs86.62bn ($1.9bn) compared with the government’s reserve price of Rs35bn, a level already high by international standards, analysts said. There is no deadline for the end of bidding, which is expected to take some days more.

“The prices that we’re approaching right now are starting to get to the higher levels of global benchmarks,” said Kunal Bajaj, director for India at Analysys Mason, a consultancy. “If they keep going, then they’re going to surpass those global benchmarks.”

The robust competition in the auction, led by domestic market leader Bharti Airtel and its bigger rivals Vodafone of the UK, Tata DoCoMo and Reliance Communications, comes as India continues to set records for monthly new subscriber additions.

The country’s mobile operators signed up an unprecedented 20.31m subscribers last month, bringing the total number of mobile users in India to 584.32m, second only to China’s 777m.

The 3G auction, which was launched on April 9 after years of delays, is expected to provide an additional fillip to an industry whose growth is threatened by a lack of spectrum – the airwaves through which calls are broadcast.

Nine bidders are competing for slots in 22 telecom circles across the country, with three pan-India allocations available.

Once the 3G auctions finish, the government will auction two pan-India allocations for broadband wireless access spectrum.

The government has set a reserve price of Rs35bn for 3G and Rs17.5bn for BWA national spectrum, but analysts have always expected the market leaders to pay more in an effort to secure their position.

Mr Bajaj said the price per megahertz of spectrum per total population of the auction on Monday had reached an average of $1.56.

But accounting for the large number of people in India still unable to afford mobiles, the price per megahertz per “addressable” population was already at $7.04.

The high end of the global benchmark measured by total population was $3, he said.

During the UK and German auctions at the height of the telecoms and internet boom, operators paid $4, which was considered excessive.

Источник: Financial Times

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