(Repeats to remove superfluous characters from headline)
* Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Industries among eight
* Govt expects revenue from auction to top its $1.8 bln
* India's third attempt to auction spectrum after two failed
(Adds details on interest, government's comment)
By Devidutta Tripathy
NEW DELHI, Jan 15 India's leading mobile phone
operators as well as aspiring new entrant Reliance Industries
have applied to bid in what will be the government's
third attempt at auctioning off some radio frequencies in the
hope of raising billions of dollars in much-needed revenue for
Revenues from the new licensing are crucial as the
government seeks to rein in its budget deficit but two previous
attempts to sell the same spectrum were boycotted by major
mobile phone operators who complained the minimum bid prices
were too high.
On Wednesday, the deadline for submissions of interest for
the latest sale, eight companies including mobile market leaders
Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Group's local
unit had responded, a senior government official told reporters.
Reliance Industries, which generates most of its revenue
from its energy business but acquired spectrum for a planned 4G
broadband Internet service three years ago, also applied to bid
in the new auction scheduled to start on Feb. 3.
Cash-rich Reliance will be able to offer basic mobile phone
services along with its yet to be launched 4G service if it wins
frequencies in the February auction, increasing competition in
the market that has about a dozen players.
"We are very positive about it," M.F. Farooqui, the top
bureaucrat in India's telecommunications ministry said of the
interest from bidders, adding he expected the revenue from the
auction to top the government's target of $1.8 billion.
The government has cut the floor price for the February
auction, but carriers have also demanded that the recurring
annual fee they pay for operating licences be
The two frequency bands to be auctioned in February are
currently being used by carriers for providing basic 2G mobile
phone services. But after the government removed restrictions
over which technology can be used carriers are now allowed to
deploy the same bands for 3G and 4G broadband mobile internet
services, spurring the auction.
Bharti and Vodafone's expressions of interest in the auction
reflect their need to target new spectrum in some key Indian
cities in order to renew operating permits beyond 2014 even as
they wait for government decision on their demands to cut the
annual spectrum fee.
An independent sector regulator has proposed capping the
annual fee at 3 percent of revenue for spectrum they buy from an
auction in February, scrapping the 3 to 8 percent fee range
currently levied. But the government is yet to decide the fee.
Telecoms Secretary Farooqui said he was hopeful of a
decision on the annual spectrum fee before the auction begins.
Among others, third-ranked cellular carrier Idea Cellular
and fourth-ranked Reliance Communications
have applied to bid in the auction. Mobile carriers Aircel and
Tata Teleservices have also submitted interests, officials said.
The Indian unit of Norway-based Telenor is also
planning to bid in the auction. The company bought frequencies
in select areas in a 2012 auction to operate a reduced business
in India after its previous licences awarded in 2008 were
cancelled, along with those of several rivals following a
government mis-selling scandal.
Bidders have until Jan. 27 to withdraw their interest.
(Additional reporting by Prashant Mehra; Editing by Greg