Adani Group and Vodafone Idea May Evade Fines Over Delayed 5G Rollout

By Consultants Review Team Tuesday, 23 January 2024

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued show-cause notices to Vodafone Idea and Adani Group's Adani Data Networks, questioning why fines should not be imposed on them for failing to meet the minimum rollout obligations associated with 5G spectrum deployment. Officials suggest that Vodafone Idea may be subject to a fine of approximately Rs 14 crore, while Adani Data Networks could face penalties ranging between Rs 5-6 crore.

Both companies have been directed to provide explanations for the delay and specify the timelines for launching their 5G services. As of the time of reporting, neither Vodafone Idea nor Adani Data Networks has responded to these inquiries.

Under the year-one 5G rollout obligations, operators were required to commercially launch services in both metro and non-metro circles. However, more than a year later, neither company has launched 5G services even in a single city across the country. Adani Data Networks intends to deploy the spectrum for a private captive network, catering to its data usage in ports, logistics, power generation, etc., rather than for consumer mobility.

Vodafone Idea had previously indicated that it had made minimal investments in two out of 17 circles to meet the minimum rollout obligation. However, commercial services are yet to be launched, and the delay may result in a penalty ranging from Rs 12 crore to Rs 13 crore for the circles where the rollout has not occurred.

While Vodafone Idea has not officially disclosed its 5G rollout plans, its website hints at the Vi 5G network's potential, claiming readiness in select places in Pune and Delhi.

In the 5G spectrum auctions held in July 2022, Adani Data Networks acquired 400 MHz spectrum in the 26 GHz band for Rs 212 crore. The company possesses 100 MHz of 5G spectrum in Gujarat and Mumbai and 50 MHz each in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. Sources suggest that the Adani Group is still exploring how to deploy a 5G network in the 26 GHz band for captive networks, potentially providing broadband services in specific areas or connecting its ports through data networks.

Both Vodafone Idea and Adani Data Networks had previously requested an extension of the deadline, seeking more time to meet the minimum obligations for launching 5G services by August 16, 2023. Vodafone Idea attributes its delay to funding challenges.

In contrast, industry leaders Airtel and Jio have made significant strides in 5G deployment, with close to 400,000 5G sites set up as of November 2023. Jio claims to have completed its pan-India 5G rollout ahead of schedule, while Airtel aims to accomplish the same by March. Combined, Airtel and Jio have surpassed 150 million 5G subscribers, according to industry estimates.

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