The Centre has asked telecom service providers to firm up their 5G launch plans, given that now they have the required airwaves.
The central government allocated the airwaves on Thursday, a day after the telcos, including Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi), as well as Adani Data Networks, transferred the upfront payments and first-year instalments of over ₹17,855 crore to the telecom department.
“Spectrum assignment letter has been issued. Requesting telecom service providers to prepare for 5G launch," said telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
The fast-paced clearance by the Centre won praise from Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises. “No Fuss, No Follow Up, No running around the corridors and No tall claims. This is ease of doing business at work in its full glory," he said in a statement. “In my over 30 years of first-hand experience with the department of telecommunications, this is a first! Business as it should be. Leadership at work-Right at the top and at the helm of telecom. What a change! Change that can transform this nation – power its dreams to be a developed nation."
According to Mittal, Airtel paid ₹8,312.4 crore spectrum dues for the first four years and was handed over the allocation letter for designated frequency bands within hours and e-band allocation was given along with spectrum as promised. It will have to pay ₹43,040 crore over 20 years for the airwaves.
The three private wireless operators paid ₹17,855 crore as advance payments for the spectrum bought at the auctions earlier this month, exceeding the government’s estimates for the year.
However, rival Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd deposited its first-year instalment of ₹7,864 crore, as did Vodafone Idea, which paid ₹1,679 crore, two people aware of the development said, requesting anonymity. Tuesday was the payment deadline.
The government has offered telcos 20 years to pay their dues of ₹1.5 trillion for the spectrum. While Reliance Jio, India’s largest operator, bought airwaves worth ₹88,078 crore, rivals Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea spent ₹43,084 crore and ₹18,799 crore, respectively.
The payments, including the moratorium on spectrum dues and adjusted gross revenue (AGR)-related dues for four years, will free up cash flows and allow Airtel to dedicate resources to focus on the 5G rollout, the company said in a statement.
Spokespeople for Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea declined to comment.
Gopal Vittal, managing director and chief executive, Bharti Airtel, had said in a conference call last week that it will roll out 5G services in August, to cover 5,000 towns and cities with 5G by March 2024. “By March 2024, we will be able to cover every single town and key rural area. In fact, detailed network rollout plans for 5,000 towns in India are in place. This will be one of the biggest roll-outs in our history," Vittal said.
Jio was expected to launch 5G services on Independence Day after Akash Ambani, the chairman, said the company will celebrate “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav" with the 5G rollout across India. However, it is yet to announce the launch date formally. Vodafone Idea is also expected to roll out 5G services soon. However, none have unveiled the tariff plans for 5G services so far.