Fight for UP-East circle extends spectrum sales

NEW DELHI: It’s a prestige battle for the Hindi heartland. The Modi-Yogi-Ayodhya turf has, among other factors, seen the high-profile telecom auctions stretch on for six days as Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, Sunil Mittal’s Airtel and Vodafone Idea are caught in an intense bidding war to bag the coveted 4G airwaves.
UP-East, one of the country’s biggest telecom circles, is also the most prestigious in terms of the power quotient. This has prompted companies to aggressively outbid each other for spectrum in the 1,800MHz band where overall spectrum value has moved up from Rs 983 crore when auctions started (for a total of 54 blocks of 0. 2MHz each) to Rs 1,734 crore by close of bidding on Sunday.

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The 1,800MHz band is one of the most crucial bands that supports a bulk of existing voice and internet services in UP-East, and up for grabs is a total of 10. 8MHz. While the per-MHz reserve price was Rs 91 crore, the same moved up to about Rs 161 crore when bidding stopped on Sunday.
“All the companies are slugging it out, and now see this as a prestige battle. Jio and Airtel are not ready to cede space, and are surely outbidding each other, with Voda Idea also likely to have an aggressive posture,” a top company official said, requesting anonymity.
The UP-East circle is perhaps the most important one, if current political equations are anything to go by, especially as PM Narendra Modi’s Parliamentary constituency Varanasi, UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s constitu- ency Gorakhpur and UP’s capital Lucknow fall under it, apart from Ayodhya, which has the Ram Janmabhoomi.
Clearly, all the companies are desperate to stock up as much spectrum as possible in the band, especially as there are no airwaves that are being sold in the 900MHz band, which also supports 4G services.
While the exact bids placed by the companies in the fray are not yet clear as the auctions are still ongoing, telecom watchers say that all the three operators are out- bidding each other.
A look at the subscriber and revenue market share in the circle also brings out the business compulsions, apart from the political importance. For Airtel, which currently has the maximum spectrum in the band, UPEast stands second when it comes to subscriber base with as many as 10. 2% of its users coming from the area (Bihar tops at 10. 3%). For Jio, a significant 8% subscribers come from UP-East, while for Voda Idea it is 7. 8%.
Equally important is the contribution of the telecom circle to revenues. UP-East accounts for 7. 6% of Airtel’s overall revenues, 7. 2% of Jio’s revenues, and 4% of Voda Idea’s revenues.
Currently, Airtel has the highest — 15MHz of holding in the 1,800MHz band in UPEast. Jio and Voda Idea have 10MHz each, and thus are desperate to acquire more.