Airtel CEO Outlines Fixed Wireless Access Strategy for India

During the earnings call, the Airtel leadership team shared that for the same block of spectrum in 4G, 5G would deliver around 4-5x times more capacity for Airtel.


  • Insights into Airtel's FWA strategy from CEO Gopal Vittal.
  • Capacity advantages of 5G over 4G networks.
  • Airtel's readiness with FWA pilot in select cities.

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Airtel CEO Outlines Fixed Wireless Access Strategy for India
Bharti Airtel has recently conducted service testing of 5G services on both the 3300 MHz (C-Band) and 26 GHz (mmWave - millimeter wave) bands successfully. In the earnings call of the first quarter ending on June 30, 2023, Airtel's CEO, Gopal Vittal, shared insights about Airtel's Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) strategy and the company's plans going forward in that aspect. Let's now look at what Airtel is up to regarding FWA in India.

Also Read: Airtel Reaping the Benefits of 5G NSA Through Seamless Coverage and Experience

Airtel's Focus on Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)

Gopal Vittal firstly clarified that the 4G and 5G Networks are not congested, and assuming capacity utilization is mostly around 50-60 percent, there is a lot of headroom for capacity. During the earnings call, the Airtel leadership team shared that for the same block of spectrum in 4G, 5G would deliver around 4-5x times more capacity for Airtel.

In the medium term, investments would not be related to capacity since Airtel already has sufficient capacity. In the long term, capacity investments would come from mmWave segment, which is years away as the ecosystem has not even begun today, shared Gopal.

Network Slicing Capabilities of Airtel

Regarding the Network Slicing Capabilities of Airtel's Network, Airtel clearly stated that Airtel's Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G Network is capable of Network Slicing as per 3GPP standards, and Airtel can deliver the required Business use cases for FWA. However, Gopal highlighted that if there are applications where you need 15 different Network slices, then at some point in time, 5G SA (Standalone) is needed, but that's nowhere near the horizon.

Gopal said, "At best, you'll have one slice on FWA or two slices. These kinds of slices are totally possible in an NSA network. Secondly, remember the spectrum is unutilized; it's a network that is empty. So even if you slice it, what is the value? Because it's an empty network. So whether you give a small slice or you give a whole slice, it doesn't really matter. I would say that is still perhaps in the distant future as the networks fill out, that you slice and so on and so forth, but technically you can slice even on an NSA network."

Gopal highlighted that when there is still a lot of capacity available and spectrum is unutilized, it doesn't make sense for Network Slicing as it doesn't really matter. Airtel would be able to offer whatever the market demands as per the use cases available as of the date with the best experience.

Also Read: Bharti Airtel Provides Insights on mmWave Fixed Wireless Access Plans

Economics of FWA Service and Market Pilot

Regarding the economics of FWA service, Gopal said, "As mentioned before, the economics of FWA are still not attractive because of the cost of the Customer Premises Equipment (CPE). The cost for connected HomePass in the network today is about USD 90, and the cost of a fixed wireless access CPE is about USD 160, which is almost double, making it economically unattractive to go for FWA at this point in time."

Talking about the readiness of FWA, Airtel's Gopal said, "We are ready with FWA. We are doing our trial, we've ordered FWA boxes, and we have already launched. We are piloting this in two cities to start with to assess the opportunity."

Bharti Airtel on Thursday said that the company has rolled out 5G services on the 26 GHz spectrum across all 22 telecom circles in the country in accordance with the norms set by the DoT for complying with the minimum rollout obligation criteria, according to Media reports.

Also Read: Bharti Airtel Successfully Tests 5G on mmWave and 3300 MHz in West Bengal

As reported by TelecomTalk, Airtel has already commenced testing 5G FWA across circles, and DoT's West Bengal circle wing has confirmed the same through a social media post. However, Airtel stated that it is starting to roll out FWA initially in two cities, to check the market scenario and consumer behaviour.

Airtel Spectrum Portfolio Advantage

As reported by TelecomTalk earlier, Airtel is delivering 5G through its 3300 MHz and 2100 MHz spectrum on NSA mode, which allows Airtel to get a 30 percent improvement in coverage. Hence, Airtel needs fewer numbers of towers to achieve the required coverage for delivering a seamless experience.

For FWA, Airtel acquired spectrum in the 26 GHz band PAN India, and Airtel is already ready with the technology in place. This is one variant (mmWave) through which Airtel can offer High-Speed FWA service.

Also Read: Ericsson’s Recent FWA Milestone Could Benefit Indian Telecom Market

However, as reported by TelecomTalk, we believe that with the recent developments announced by Ericsson in the FWA space, Airtel is also best positioned to deliver FWA on its 3300 MHz and 2100 MHz spectrum combination, making it another variant through which Airtel can offer High-Speed FWA services.

In short, as per Airtel, the telco is looking to deliver a seamless data, voice, and connected mobility experience which the customers can use to have a seamless Network experience rather than fighting for the numbers.

Keep Reading TelecomTalk to stay updated with the Credible Telecom updates.

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Telecom Analyst

Passionately following the Indian #Telecom Industry for over a decade from Business, Consumer and a Technical perspective. My primary focus area is Consumer & Digital Experience.

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