Indian mobile phone market leaders Bharti Airtel and Vodafone bought airwaves worth about $3 billion each in a hotly contested auction that raised nearly $10 billion, far exceeding the government's target.
No.1 Bharti and second-ranked Vodafone said they had won airwaves in the premium 900 megahertz band that was available in three key cities -- Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Conglomerate Reliance Industries, a new entrant in telecoms that is seen as a threat to the incumbents, bought airwaves in another band in 14 locations the government said, estimated to have cost it $1.7 billion.
The market leaders' heavy spending on airwaves underscores the fierce competition and their bet on mobile data in the world's second biggest mobile phone market behind China.
No.3 mobile operator Idea Cellular said it spent $1.7 billion on new airwaves including in 900 band in the capital city Delhi.
After India removed technology restrictions, the 900 and 1800 spectrum bands sold in the auction can be used to offer 3G and 4G services, respectively. Currently carriers offer voice services on these bands, but Bharti, Vodafone and Idea said on Thursday they could use these to rollout mobile data services.
Telenor's Indian unit, Reliance Communications and Aircel also won airwaves in the 1800 MHz band in some zones. Companies have the right to use the airwaves won in the auction for 20 years.