In the recently concluded 5G spectrum auction, Reliance Jio was the only one who went for the 700 MHz frequency band for offering 5G services. Airtel, which could have bid for the airwaves, didn't go for it. This led to many questioning why Airtel didn't go for the 700 MHz band. Well, Airtel's CEO, Gopal Vittal, has cleared that for us. But before we do that, we need to understand what the 700 MHz spectrum actually does.
Why 700 MHz Spectrum is Considered Vital?
The 700 MHz spectrum is considered very vital by operators all across the world because of the coverage it can deliver. The telecom players want it because of the deep indoor coverage it can provide. The lower the frequency, the better the coverage will be. Telcos already have a high-frequency spectrum for delivering high downlink (download speeds), but it is the uplink that forms the basis of user experience.
Vittal said that without uplink capabilities, there would be no coverage for the users. It is through uplink that users can send files to others or make calls. Thus, the 700 MHz spectrum is great for optimising the networks to deliver a greater coverage experience to users with better uplink capabilities.
Why Did Airtel Not Go for 700 MHz if it is Good for Coverage?
Vittal said that Airtel doesn't need the 700 MHz spectrum because of multiple reasons. As per the company's CEO, Airtel has acquired the largest pool of mid-band spectrum (30 MHz of mid-band spectrum in 4 circles and at least 20 MHz or more in the remaining circles). No competitor has such spectrum portfolio. Vittal said that if Airtel didn't have such an impressive mid-band spectrum quantity, it would have had no other option but to buy it in the current spectrum auctions.
But then it would have cost more money, and Airtel would have also had to deploy large power guzzling radios on this band which would have further led to more carbon emissions. Most of all, Vittal said that the 700 MHz band would have given no additional coverage to Airtel than the telco's existing 900 MHz band. So, at the end of the day, the 700 MHz spectrum would have cost more money, would have been bad for the environment, and for no additional benefit.
Also, in terms of speed, Airtel's CEO said that during trials, it was found that the sub-GHz spectrum doesn't deliver any more than 8-10 Mbps of speed even on the SA network, which is no different than 4G.