900 MHz spectrum expected to sell for four times the reserve price: HSBC Research

NEW DELHI: Government proceeds are expected to be $ 9 billion from the upcoming spectrum auctions, 20 per cent higher than the government's own estimates, according to a study by HSBC Telecom and Media Global Research.


The research also says that it is possible that in a few markets the cost for 5 MHz of 900 band may exceed the 3G prices as well.  


The estimates are 1.4 times higher than the reserve price recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for 900 MHz spectrum band. For 1,800 MHz band, the estimates are 1.2 times of the reserve price suggested by TRAI, the report adds.


Demand for data spectrum is likely to be a key driver in the upcoming spectrum auctions, if one goes by earlier auctions. At present, the two top players who are better placed to add more spectrums - Idea and RCOM – are likely to be more defensive, according to the study.

It further noted that there is uncertainty for both investors and operators whenever there is talk of spectrum auction.


The spectrum auction earlier this year saw an unexpected contest for 1,800 MHz spectrum as the entry of pure 4G players forced incumbent operators to add 4G spectrum selectively, stated the research paper.


Moreover, it added that the most interesting trend has been robust data revenue growth (data revenue growth in FY14 was 90 per cent year on year for the top three players).


“While this is positive, it raises the need for additional capacity spectrum (incumbent telcos are already talking about congestion particularly in metro markets with 20 per cent to 30 per cent of their BTS). Operators have so far been highlighting the need to add data footprint but in the markets where they have 5MHz of spectrum, and it will be important for them to get to 10MHz sooner than later (over the next couple of years) to accommodate data growth,” the research revealed.


The study has found that ‘doubling of spectrum will more than double the throughput for telcos and in turn allow them to benefit from lower per unit costs as well with doubling of spectrum.’ 

The need for capacity spectrum, the study said, is likely to drive prices up for spectrum in the upcoming auctions.  


While both Bharti and Idea face auctions in some of their key markets, the latter has more exposure in the upcoming auctions versus Bharti. The study says this implies that telco Idea is likely to focus more in retaining spectrum in existing markets.


On the other hand, the top two players Bharti and Vodafone could look at adding more spectrum in the 900 band, according to the report. HSBC was positive on Bharti with a target price (TP) of Rs 481 and Neutral on Idea Cellular with a TP of Rs 172. The key downside risk for Bharti will be losing spectrum in the 900 MHz band.  The key upside risk for Idea will be the release of additional data spectrum and the key downside risk will be losing spectrum in the 900 band. The study is somewhat negative on RCOM with TP of Rs 100 and the key upside risk for them will be ability to benefit from spectrum trading. 

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