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Vodafone to bid for spectrum in 3 metros if priced right, says CEO Marten Pieters

Vodafone India MD & CEO Marten Pieters said the world's biggest private mobile phone company would definitely bid for fresh 2G airwaves in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata in the next auction later this year if the government reduced "the reserve price to a level where it is economically feasible" to buy it and continue a business.

But he was quick to reiterate the British telco's "rights to extension of its mobile permits" in the three metros, which come up for renewal in late 2014, claiming "DoT cannot put Vodafone's existing airwaves in the 900 MHz band up for auction" since there's no global precedent of used airwaves being put up for sale.

"Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are among Vodafone's biggest operations in India where it has over 20 million customers. So, of course, we are interested in keeping airwaves in these metros if the base price drops to a level where it becomes economically feasible to buy it. But DoT cannot put up our existing airwaves in the 900 MHz band for auction since governments worldwide, typically, put up new spectrum for auction," Pieters said.

He was responding to ET's specific query on whether Vodafone's Indian arm would try to win back airwaves in the three metros if denied an automatic extension by the telecom department. He was speaking to ET on the sidelines at the company's launch of M-Pesa mobile payment services in partnership with ICICI Bank in Kolkata, West Bengal and Bihar on Wednesday.

Last month, the telecom department had dismissed Vodafone's request for extension of its permits in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata that come up for renewal next year and asked the British telco to win back spectrum in these regions through the bidding route later this year. Vodafone India, in turn, argued that DoT's decision was legally unsustainable and suffered from "fundamental flaws, contradictions and jurisdictional errors".

Pieters, however, declined to clear the air on whether Vodafone would seek legal redressal against DoT's decision, maintaining that the company is "in discussions" with the government.

"We think we are entitled to extension as it is written in the licence agreement. Nobody wants to end up in legal debates but we've built good networks in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, not for nothing. So it's a bit strange that after so many years of hard work and investment, we suddenly would not be allowed to extend our licences," said the Vodafone India CEO, adding that "something like this has never happened anywhere in the world".

The Vodafone India chief executive also claimed that a licence was "an adminisitrative thing, which administers the business. "Every telecom operator in the world does not invest based on the length of the licence, it invests because it assumes it can keep a business going. It is absolutely undone in the world to ask an existing operator which has fulfilled all the licence conditions to suddenly close down networks as it will ultimately hurt customers," said Pieters
Source : Economic Times
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