India kicks off billion-dollar 3G auction

NEW DELHI, April 9, 2010 (AFP) – India’s mobile phone firms began bidding Friday to provide superfast third-generation (3G) services in the booming cellular market — a sale expected to reap the government billions of dollars. The auction of 3G spectrum will propel India firmly into the Internet era where rolling out landline broadband networks has been costly and will heat up the battle for customers in the world’s fastest-growing mobile market.

Leading Indian operators Bharti Airtel, Reliance and foreign-backed Vodafone Essar and Tata DoCoMo are among the companies bidding in the 3G auction, the largest such sale globally in recent years,

“The auction has started and it is going smoothly,” a telecom ministry official, who declined to be identified, told AFP.

The government has budgeted to bring in at least 350 billion rupees or eight billion dollars from the sell-off of 3G airwaves and a follow-on auction of broadband wireless access spectrum that could take days or even weeks.

“The major operators will bid aggressively. It will be very important for them to win 3G slots to retain their high-end subscribers,” Kunal Bajaj, analyst at consultancy BDA Connect, told AFP.

The reserve price has bee