India’s Adani ‘one of many’ to bid in 5G auction

Money bag with indian rupee symbol

Adani Group has revealed that it will take part in India’s upcoming 5G spectrum auction with a view to rolling out private 5G networks.

That in itself is pretty big news, since the government’s recently-announced rules on private 5G don’t make it particularly easy for corporations to set up their own networks, in the short term, at least. But a statement issued by the company on Saturday also indicates that there will be numerous others looking to do the same.

As a quick reminder, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) published guidelines for private 5G networks a fortnight ago. Its decision to allow non-telecoms companies to acquire 5G spectrum was not popular with telcos, who fear their own 5G business case will come under threat in the enterprise market. The rules were also not ideal for the would-be private 5G network owners either, with local press reports claiming that the application process could take one to two years, giving telcos something of a head start.

However, Adani Group’s statement suggests it will take part in the actual bidding part of the auction, rather than applying direct to the state for frequencies, a move that puts pressure on the operators right from the start. And it might well not be the only one.

“As India prepares to roll out next generation 5G services through this auction, we are one of the many applicants participating in the open bidding process,”  Adani Group said in a statement attributed to a company spokesperson.

Given that India no longer has ‘many’ telecoms operators lining up for the auction – the market is really a three-horse race between Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, or Vi, these days – then Adani’s choice of words naturally raises questions as to who else might take part.

Adani makes it completely clear that this is just about private 5G though.

“We have received a lot of inquiries about our interest in the 5G space. Our intention is not to be in the consumer mobility space,” it says. “We are participating in the 5G spectrum auction to provide private network solutions along with enhanced cyber security in the airport, ports & logistics, power generation, transmission, distribution, and various manufacturing operations.”

There’s a CSR angle too. Adani talks about its aim to increase in investments in education, healthcare, and skills development in rural areas via its Adani Foundation. Acquiring spectrum would ‘align’ with this goal, the company said, but did not provide any more details on what that might mean in practice.

“In addition, as we build our own digital platform encompassing super apps, edge data centres, and industry command and control centres, we will need ultra high quality data streaming capabilities through a high frequency and low latency 5G network across all our businesses,” the company said.

That last point sounds like the sort of lucrative contract a telecoms operator might seek to win, doesn’t it? The sort of deal that might help to pay for its massive investments in 5G spectrum and network rollout.

It’s obvious from the information Adani has shared that India’s telcos were correct to fear that big companies would cut them out of the enterprise 5G equation and ultimately threaten their revenue-generation potential as a result. But that’s just how competition works.

Realistically, India’s big three are not going to face any new competition in the consumer space. But unfortunately it’s much more difficult to make a return on investment there than it is on the business side. They are not going to have the 5G market all their own way…and it’s starting to look like they won’t have the upcoming auction all their own way either.


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