Reliance Jio looking for RCom’s unsold 850 MHz band, but Airtel may also going to join the line
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KOLKATA: Reliance Jio Infocomm may target Reliance Communications’ remaining unsold airwaves in the 850-MHz band — considered among the most suitable for rollout of 4G services — with the government backing the sector regulator’s call for easing spectrum cap rules, three people aware said, adding that Bharti Airtelcould provide a stiff challenge.

The Telecom Commission, on Tuesday endorsed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s key suggestions such as removing the 50% limit put on telcos on holding airwaves within each band, post-mergers, and also increasing the overall spectrum holding limit to 35% from 25%. Both Mukesh Ambani-led Jio and Bharti Airtel are keen to bolster their holdings in this crucial sub-gigahertz band.

The Anil Ambani-led RCom has some 70-odd units of liberalised 850-MHz spectrum spread across 22 circles valid till July-September 2021.

A senior industry expert on spectrum matters pegged the valuation of RCom’s unsold 850-MHz airwaves at roughly ₹3,500-4,000 crore. Another person familiar with developments said RCom may even choose to retain a small part of its 850 MHz spectrum holdings for its enterprise customers.

Separately, Vodafone India and Bharti Airtel, it is learnt, are keen on buying 60 units of RCom’s unsold but unliberalised 1800-MHz spectrum in some circles as this, upon liberalisation by paying the market price, can be used for 4G services in future. Analysts say the 60-MHz airwaves could be worth roughly ₹1,500 crore. These residual airwaves are also valid till July-September 2021.

While Jio is believed to be a clear frontrunner especially after its recent deal to buy RCom’s wireless assets, including spectrum, one of the persons said Bharti Airtel may also bid aggressively, as it could easily combine them with the 850-MHz spectrum it is poised to acquire in some 18 circles through its ongoing buyout of Tata Teleservices’ consumer mobile business.

Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and RCom did not reply to ET’s queries at press time on Tuesday.

The acquisition is expected to help Jio establish its supremacy in the efficient 850 MHz band and help it fight Airtel and the future Idea-Vodafone combined entity in a fiercely competitive telecom market.

“Such additional spectrum would be very handy for Airtel to roll out top-grade fast broadband services on the efficient 850-MHz band,” he added.

Last month, RCom had inked an all-cash deal to sell its wireless assets to Jio for up to ₹24,000 crore to repay a chunk of its 45,000 crore debt. Jio had then emerged the top bidder for these wireless assets that included 122 units of 4G spectrum (across the 850, 900, 1800 and 2100 MHz bands), towers, optic fibre and related infrastructure.
“Jio possibly did not buy RCom’s entire spectrum holdings in the 850-MHz band last month as it could potentially have led to some spectrum cap breaches in the band,” a senior industry executive, who did not wish to be named, told ET.

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