India is set to auction off its largest and most expensive cellular network, with the first-ever sale of 1Gbps data to the world set to cost a record $4 billion.
The auction of 700MHz spectrum in New Delhi will be the biggest in the world, and the first time a country has ever sold so much spectrum at once.
But unlike other auctions, the sale is expected to be held in a low-key setting, with officials giving only a partial list of interested parties.
The government has already spent more than $2 billion on the network, the largest single investment in mobile infrastructure in the past decade, with more to come.
The spectrum auction was initially planned for next year, but it was delayed after it was revealed the auction would go ahead in February and March 2019.
The plan to sell the network was put on hold because of the Indian winter, and that could delay the auction, which was supposed to start on November 6.
The sale is scheduled to start next week.
The first auction will be held on Friday, November 6, when the telecom regulator, TRAI, will ask for bids for the 700MHz band from private companies, who have been offering offers to buy the network.
It is expected that private companies will have the first bid by the end of the week.
Private firms have been pushing for a network that is cheaper than the ones currently being used in India, and they have been getting an edge by being able to offer faster speeds than those in the public sector, which typically offer more expensive services.
The network is also expected to have a far higher coverage area, which could help it to deliver more services in rural areas.
The 700MHz Band has been the subject of a number of high-profile bidding wars, with a consortium led by China Telecom being the largest bidder.
China Telecom’s bid was rejected last year after it came under pressure from the government, which is concerned about how the network will be managed.
In September, the Indian government asked a committee to examine the 700 MHz auction process.
The panel said it was not a suitable forum for bidding for a “potentially critical and unlicensed” service.
India is planning to launch a new telecom policy by the middle of next year.