* Companies challenge auction of frequency in 900 MHz band
* India airwave auctions due in March
NEW DELHI Feb 20 India's two biggest mobile
phone operators, Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone India
, challenged in court a government move to auction
airwaves in a band they already use.
It was not immediately known when the High Court of Delhi
will hear the pleas, but Vodafone Group Plc's Indian unit said
it expected a hearing soon. Any order in favour of the companies
could derail part of the auction due in March.
India is selling airwaves, along with stakes in state-run
companies, to cut its fiscal deficit. It raised less than a
quarter of a targeted $7.4 billion from an auction in November.
A senior official has said all airwaves being auctioned in
March are worth at least $3.7 billion.
Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India use the 900 megahertz
frequency band in some service areas. The government is putting
the frequency on the block in three cities - Delhi, Mumbai and
Kolkata - where existing permits are valid until November 2014.
The companies are required to win back the airwaves to
continue using that frequency band, or bid for the
less-efficient 1800 megahertz band. This would mean they would
have to build more mobile masts and invest more on technology.
The minimum bidding price for the 900 megahertz band has
been set at double the price for the 1800 megahertz one.
"Our decision to undertake this legal recourse is only aimed
at protecting our legal and contractual right with regard to 900
megahertz spectrum and ensuring business continuity," Bharti
Airtel said in a statement.
Vodafone in a statement called the government's move to
withdraw the 900 megahertz airwaves as "arbitrary" and that it
is "entitled to a fair and reasonable extension of its licence
as per mutually agreeable terms".
India, which is also seeking bids for airwaves in the 1800
megahertz and 800 megahertz frequency bands in the March
auctions, has asked bidders to submit interests by Friday.