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For Sale: An Entire Band of India’s Electromagnetic Spectrum

It could be the priciest such auction of all time in India.

A cell tower in Pondicherry, India. (Photo: Ken Banks/CC BY 2.0)

Everything has its price, including the electromagnetic spectrum. In India, that will soon mean an entire band of the spectrum, as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India plans to auction off the rights to the 700 MHz band, which is used for cell phone signals, in what could be the most expensive spectrum auction ever in the country. This is not the first time India has auctioned off use of specific electromagnetic bands, but it is the first time they are selling off an entire signal band in one go.

Spectrum auctions are a common occurrence worldwide, allowing countries to regulate and profit from cell phone companies using specific frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum to broadcast signals. In India alone, they have held spectrum auctions almost every year since 2010, selling off the rights to each new block of the spectrum as cell phone technology changes, requiring different frequencies.

This latest auction is controversial, however, in that it is set to license an entire bandwidth. Since January, the TRAI have priced the access to the frequency at ₹114,850,000,000, or around $1,726,000, also making it the most expensive spectrum auction in history. For the winning company, though, that price might be cheap, since while few now use the 4G LTE service the frequency is planned for, that business, TRAI argues, will eventually come. Still, in the short term, that’s one steep cell phone bill.

The auction is set to take place around May or June, and it remains to be seen whether the TRAI will budge on its price or the breadth of its license. But for the time being it looks like better coverage in India isn’t going to come cheap.