A customer inside a Vodafone store in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

The Indian government could face a lackluster response when it invites bids for spectrum to roll out 5G mobile phone technology.

The Department of Telecommunications has asked for proposals for the appointment of an auctioneer by October 15 to conduct the auction. But the country’s three leading telecom operators — Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Reliance Jio — are unlikely to place bids, citing high cost and the limited availability of airwaves.

Earlier the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India turned down a proposal from the department to lower base prices for the proposed 5G auction in 22 circles (areas).

The government has proposed a base price of 4.92 billion rupees (US$68.6 million) for just one megahertz of 5G spectrum, but industry experts say that is nearly six times the cost in other countries.

Apart from the high base price fixed by the telecom regulator, telecom operators say not enough spectrum is available in the two bands identified in the proposal: 700 MHz and 3300-3600 MHz. That is because of competing claims from the Defence, Railways and Space departments.

But operators say this will leave very little room for telecom companies to operate and that broadband speeds will suffer.

Rajan Matthew, head of the Cellular Operators Association of India, told Business Standard that his organization had raised the issue of pricing and inadequate spectrum with the Telecommunication department but nothing had been done.

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