India raised 657.9 billion rupees ($9.85 billion) in an auction of airwaves, much below the 5.6 trillion rupees that the government had sought, as several mobile-phone carriers shunned the sale to preserve cash amid intensifying competition in the industry.
Bharti Airtel Ltd., the nation's largest carrier, bought 142.4 billion rupees of spectrum, the company said in a statement. Vodafone Group Plc's Indian unit and Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. also placed bids.
Airwaves in the 2,300 megahertz band sold out as telecom operators spent to increase their fourth generation mobile broadband services. Credit rating company ICRA Ltd. had forecast bids of as much as $9.7 billion, citing a 41 percent increase in Indian telecom industry debt since March 2014
No bids were received for spectrum in the 700 megahertz and 900 megahertz bands that had the highest minimum prices.
The government will get an upfront payment of 320 billion rupees, Communications Minister Manoj Sinha said in New Delhi. Unsold spectrum will be auctioned in future, he said.
Expectations of tepid bidding came as the nation's 12 wireless companies work through more than $60 billion in debt and as more customers replace voice calls with apps that use data plans, crimping revenue. Airwaves that weren't sold can be re-auctioned in future at a lower reserve price.