The race to offer the next-generation wireless broadband services truly turned hot on Thursday as a slew of high-profile operators led by Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Airtel joined the fray, one day ahead of the deadline.
Bharti became the first company to submit an application for 3G (third-generation) spectrum and was soon followed by Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communications, Vodafone and Etisalat DB (formerly Swan).
Vodafone threw a surprise by throwing its hat in the ring for Broadband Wireless Access (BWA). Tata Communications (formerly Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd) and Tikona, a broadband service company promoted by a former Reliance president Prakash Bajpai also submitted applications for BWA spectrum a day after US-based LTE technology champion Qualcomm submitted its BWA bid to demonstrate its knowhow.
Reliance Communications (RCOM) is also expected to submit application for BWA on Friday. Idea and S Tel are expected to bid for 3G spectrum on the last day.
Sistema Shyam, which operates CDMA-based mobile services under the MTS brand, has decided not to bid for the spectrum. Industry sources said that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Tata Teleservices and RCOM will bid for pan-India spectrum.
The 3G spectrum is used to deliver heavy-duty mobile communications services including high speed Internet access, online gaming, mobile TV and video-on-demand. A maximum data download speed of up to 7 Mbps is possible with 3G.
BWA is primarily used for high-speed data services. It can offer data download speeds of up to 80 Mbps. While 3G is commercially operational in large parts of Europe, America and Asia, BWA technologies including LTE and WiMAX are new and are at initial stages of deployment in some countries.
Vodafone’s submitting bids for BWA is an indication that the GSM players are looking at BWA seriously and will offer more competition in the space than thought earlier.
The government is selling three slots of spectrum across the nation with the exception of a few states where four slots will be on offer. The reserve price for pan-India spectrum has been fixed at Rs 3,500 crore. BWA reserve price is Rs 1,750 crore.
According to the Notice Inviting Applications for 3G spectrum auction, of the 22 circles only five states — Punjab, Bihar, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir — will have four private players.