NEW DELHI: Bharti Airtel on Friday announced a Rs 3,500crore spectrum deal with Aircel in eight circles, which will give it pan-India footprint to offer fourth-generation (4G) telecom services and directly take on Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which is readying a national rollout over the next few months.

After the Aircel tie-up, Bharti Airtel, at least for the time being, will leave Idea (10 circles) and Vodafone (five circles) as smaller players in the high-speed data arena. For Bharti Airtel, the country’s largest mobile operator, this is the second deal in three weeks after it entered into an arrangement to use Videocon’s spectrum in six circles in a transaction worth over Rs 4,400 crore.The company , which had originally won bids for spectrum in nine circles, has slowly increa sed its reach through acquisition of Augere Wireless, which holds 20 MHz frequency in the 2300 MHz band in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh at the end of December.

Once the latest transaction gets regulatory approvals, Aircel’s spectrum in the 2300 MHz frequency can be used in eight circles to offer 4G services, including streaming videos and better quality music on phones.

In the 2010 spectrum auctions, when Reliance Jio bagged pan-India 4G capability through spectrum in the 2300 MHz band following its acquisition of Infotel Broadband, Bharti Airtel had won spec trum in nine circles. The deal with Videocon gave Bharti access to 1800 MHz spectrum, which is good for voice but needs minimum contiguity of 5 MHz. “The transfer of the right to use (Aircel’s spectrum) for the circles of AP and Orissa is subject to the revision of spectrum caps with the upcoming auction to be conducted by the telecom department,” Bharti said in a stock exchange filing.
The recent transactions have followed the government approval to spectrum trading in a market where close to a dozen players are fighting for a share of the pie, driving down prices and spurring consumption. Apart from Reliance Jio’s entry , companies are pushing for 4G services in the wake of growing appetite for data services, which are doubling in some circles, while voice revenues remain under pressure.

The rules on spectrum trading are helping players such as Videocon and Aircel raise money and retire debt. The highpitched spectrum auctions and low tariffs have resulted in massive debt for the telecom industry with pressure even on large operators, including Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices.

Read full article: TOI

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