After a mammoth 115 rounds over 19 days, India’s telecomcompanies bid Rs 1,10,000 crore for spectrum across four bands. That’s 1.79 times the reserve price for the country in the 800MHz band, 1.95 times in 900MHz, 1.16 times in 1800MHz and 1.05 times in the 2100MHz band.
The fear of aggressive bidding was the reason why the telecom regulator was in favour of postponing the auctions till there was more spectrum available – though the defence ministry had cleared 15MHz of 2100MHz spectrum for a swap, the government did not include it in the currentauction; nor did it announce spectrum trading guidelines which would have reduced the auction pressure. While former telecom minister Kapil Sibal trashed the bidding process and called it flawed, it was his decision to not extend the 900MHz licenses that aggravated the demand-supply situation.
Exact bid details will not be available till after the decision of the Supreme Court that is hearing a case on the auctions – the next hearing is later today – but estimates are Vodafone bid the highest at Rs 34,500 crore, followed by IdeaCellular at Rs 28,000 crore, Bharti Airtel Rs 27,500 core, RJio Rs 11,000 crore and RCom Rs 2,300 crore. As compared to its revenues, Idea bid the most aggressively as it had the most to lose.
Sources said Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea managed to win back most of their licenses in the 900MHz band which were expiring. This was critical since Idea got close to 80% of its revenues from circles where the 900MHz licenses were expiring; the share was 55% for Vodafone and around 36-38% each for Bharti Airtel and RCom.
Not surprisingly, even before RJio entered the fray, competition in the 900MHz band was fierce with more players in the fray than the number of spectrum slots available. Idea, for instance, didn’t have 900MHz spectrum in Rajasthan and wanted to complete its pan-India presence in this band while Bharti and Vodafone had to retain their spectrum here – in other words, there were already 3 bidders for 2 spectrum slots in Rajasthan.
In the meanwhile, a few days ago, RJio shifted over 3,000 of its bid points from the 800MHz circles to 900MHz in Rajasthan, UP East and UP West. Not surprisingly, the 900MHz Rajasthan circle saw bids at 3.6 times the reserve price, and bidding went up to 4.3 times in UP West.
Once bids started rising in the 900MHz band, the existing telcos decided to move the auction to the 800MHz band where RJio was the main bidder. While the existing telcos were primarily interested in the 900MHz band to begin with,technology allows them to offer data services wherever there are contiguous blocks of either 5 or 3.75MHz in the 800MHz band. As a result, there wasaggressive bidding in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Assam – bids in Assam were 2.94 times the reserve price in the 800MHz circle, 2.54 in Andhra Pradesh, 4.49 in Madhya Pradesh and 2.31 in Maharashtra.
With the auctions out of the way, the winners will now lick their wounds. While winners have to pay a fourth of the bid price within 10 days, as has been pointed out before, the industry simply does not earn enough to support the bids. With spectrum spends at roughly $47bn so far, just servicing this – 10% interest costs and 5% amortization – requires an ebitda of over $7bn as compared to the currentebitda of $6-6.5bn. While that is affordable at the industry level, only the top 3-4 firms can possibly survive. That means the rest need to shut down.
Matters are far worse when it comes to overall profitability since the industry had invested around $45-50 bn of capex which also needs to be serviced.