The battle for India’s fifth-generation airwaves is luring some of the country’s richest tycoons, with billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani joining a raft of players expected to bid as much as US$14 billion ($19.4 billion) for frequency rights that could decide who dominates the digital era.
While Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. has paid the highest pre-auction deposit signalling it’s likely to be the most aggressive bidder in the sale that starts Tuesday, it is the surprise entrant Adani Data Networks Ltd. whose bids will be closely watched as rivals try to map out its telecom ambitions. Wireless operators Bharti Airtel Ltd., led by billionaire Sunil Mittal, and Vodafone Idea Ltd. -- a joint venture between Vodafone Group Plc and Kumar Mangalam Birla’s group -- are the other bidders.
The airwaves sale could raise as much as 1.1 trillion rupees ($19.4 billion), according to a June estimate by local rating company ICRA Ltd. The empire of Adani, who overtook Ambani as Asia’s richest man earlier this year, is downplaying its foray into a new playing field for the group. It said its interest in 5G waves is about “private network solutions” and enhancing cybersecurity at the firm’s airports and ports, with no intention of entering the consumer mobile space currently dominated by Ambani.