All stakeholders were taken by surprise, including competing telecom companies (telcos), the majority of analysts, and even internal government forecasts of 5G auction revenue.
Reliance Jio upset everyone's calculations by shelling out a hefty Rs 40,000 crore to purchase 10 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, which is widely regarded as a crucial band for effective 5G service coverage. They also purchased the standard 3.5 GHz band and the ultra-high speed and low-latency millimeter. band of the 26 GHz band.
What therefore drove Jio to spend nearly 45% of its entire budget on the 700 MHz band in this auction, significantly more than what it was able to scrape together for the 3.5 GHz band?
especially considering that competitors Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea avoided this band?
Reliance Industries, a division of which Jio is, has the funds to splurge and hold spectrum, resources that rivals might not have, as several experts noted.
Reliance had cash on hand and a surplus of Rs 464,762 crore in FY22, compared to Bharti, the parent company of Airtel, who had Rs 64,000 crore.
However, different tactics also contribute to the rationale for these disparate expenditures.
Few telecoms worldwide have established standalone (SA) independent 5G networks, but Jio is anticipated to do so.
This indicates that a 5G platform will be used to run the radios, which enable the wireless interface, and the core (or 5GC, which governs the network).
Jio's competitors, on the other hand, are choosing a hybrid approach known as non-standalone (NSA) 5G, which will keep using and sharing the 4G cor
They can also rely on their current spectrum to provide adequate coverage.
So unless they too go up to SA, they do not need spectrum in the 700 MHz range.
However, this approach limits their ability to profit from their efforts by creating consumer use cases.
For instance, SA makes it possible for opportunities like drone applications, robotics, autonomous vehicles, machine-to-machine communications, and remote surgery, to mention a few.
The reason for this is that SA networks have ultra-low latency, which is the time it takes for a data transfer to start after an instruction to do so.
Beyond only providing applications based on speed, the use cases being created on SA networks might be a major source of money for telcos.
However, operating a standalone SA 5G network requires support from a low spectrum band (below 1 GHz), and in this case, 700 MHz is regarded as the ideal frequency for 5G internationally (see table).
It will assist give nationwide coverage, particularly in isolated villages, as Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw noted, and it will also hasten the rollout of 5G services.
Reliance Jio's options, according to telecom suppliers, were similarly restricted. The company has 328 MHz of spectrum in the low band of 850 MHz, but the majority of it is used to power 4G service, and the 600 MHz band currently lacks an ecosystem.
Thus, 700 MHz took up that area.
Jio's strategy differs significantly from those of its competitors in other ways as well.
Totoutilized builds end-to-end 5G use cases, including developing the hardware, it is investing in or purchasing start-ups.
Jio, for example, purchased 87.3% of start-up Asteria Aerospace in order to advance developing drone technology, for which the government just announced a Production Linked Incentive scheme. This will more than double Asteria Aerospace's annual manufacturing capacity.
The Indian market will grow from its present size of $200 million to $1 billion in the next two years, according to Neel Mehta, co-founder of Asteria.
Drones with 5G connectivity can be utilized for logistics in addition to locating telecom towers and gas pipelines.
Another area of focus for Jio is use cases based on immersive technologies.
To achieve this, it has acquired a controlling stake in the start-up Tesseract Imaging, which is now known as Jio Tesseract, and creates AR/VR headsets and other immersive media.
The telco has also invested in Two Platforms Inc., a start-up based in the US that has developed an artificial reality platform that enables AI voice and video chats as well as lifelike games.
Additionally, Jio Platforms Ltd. includes Meta, formerly Facebook, as a partner and a significant shareholder.
Is Jio too much ahead of its time, though, given that the market for these use cases hasn't even grown on a worldwide scale?
When compared to the tactics of a significant rival, Airtel, this question takes on new significance.
"Spectrum acquisition in the recent auction has been part of a planned strategy to buy the greatest spectrum assets at a substantially reduced relative cost compared to, To competition the To competition," CEO Gopal Vittal said.
In order to acquire the 100 MHz in 3.5 GHz (Airtel purchased 800 MHz in the millimeter) across all circles and the 130 MHz in select circles that Jio had purchased, Airtel engaged in a head-to-head competition with Jio.
Additionally, Airtel only paid 50% of what Jio did for its spectrum.
"Airtel can always buy 700 MHz in future auctions as 15 MHz is unsold, especially when it goes to SA," a senior executive of a telecom vendor business noted. Why then do you spend money now?
In addition, according to UBS, the 5G market in India would only have 50 million users in 2024 but might reach 250 million by 2027.
The strategy of cash-strapped Vodafone India also appears to have been determined by this pessimistic forecast for the near future.
Although the telco has tested 20 use cases for the 5G trials, according to non-executive chairman Ravinder Takkar in an interview with Business Standard, they are still "up in the air."
The big question is still whether Reliance Jio can alter the 5G game's rules in the same way that it did with 4G services.