5G is going to be launched in India soon. Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the 5G spectrum auctions will “most probably” be held in February 2022, and the government may even try for a January deadline.
Speaking to PTI, Vaishnaw said that the Telecom Reform Package approved by the cabinet would be sufficient for the survival of the existing players, and would ensure strong competition in the sector. With more reforms and more structural changes that are in the pipeline, “more players should come”, he said.
“Today’s reform package is good enough for ensuring competition, definitely it is good enough for survival of the players and making sure this is a healthy sector where competition stays robust…I honestly believe once we do a little bit of more changes that are there in pipeline, more players will come,” Vaishnaw said.
When asked about the timeline for the 5G spectrum auctions, the minister said it would happen in the last quarter of the current financial year. Vaishnav said, “Most probably February of 2022…I think by January also, we can try”.
On the concerns of the industry over high spectrum prices, the minister said: “TRAI is consulting… Let the TRAI consultations conclude and let them give their final report. This is the right time, I must speak”.
He said the government will come out with detailed circulars on each of the decisions taken as part of the telecom package; the fine print of AGR redefinition – that seeks to exclude non-telecom items – is expected in 2-3 weeks, he said.
“The thought process behind this reform package is looking at next 25 years timeframe…what are the corrections we need to do, what are the reforms we need to do, structural changes we need to make. All that should lead to benefits for the weakest sections of society, and better facilities for those marginalised and living in far-flung areas,” the minister said.
The Union Cabinet approved a blockbuster relief package for the telecom sector, including a four-year break for companies from paying statutory dues, allowing sharing of airwaves, change in revenue on which levy is paid and 100% FDI is included through the automatic route. The appointed date for the reforms including the moratorium period is October 1.
Elaborating on the four-year break for companies from paying statutory dues, and the equity component, he said once the moratorium ends and annual installment period starts, depending on circumstances and whether there is a need for further intervention, “we can convert that installment into equity, so cash flow situation can improve”.
Underlining the government’s determination to pursue reforms to ensure the strong health of the telecom sector, the minister said, “We do not intend to stop.”
The Telecom Minister further said that he had spoken to all the major players in the sector after Wednesday’s briefing, and the companies are happy with the comprehensive set of measures announced. “All three big players felt it was absolutely needed,” the minister said.