No doubt about the fact that all the major telecom operators are now gearing up for the 4G war. When it comes to India’s top service provider Bharti Airtel, it has not left any stone unturned to brace itself up against its formidable rival Reliance Jio. Project Leap, and 4G launch in every other city are some of the examples, which indicate that it is in no mood to compromise with its numero uno position.
The company has invested massively in Project Leap, a program to transform its existing networks and reframing spectrum for better utilisation of the resources. It is also making a next generation data network with strong fiber backhaul.
Here, we bring to you some of the initiatives that Airtel has taken or is taking to make its pitch stronger.
Airtel's 4G Strategy:
LTE-TDD: Airtel had only 4 circles with 2.3GHz spectrum in 2010 and now, it has 2.3GHz in 9 circles via acquisition of Qualcomm’s Indian venture and Augere Wireless.
LTE-FDD: Airtel keeps buying spectrum on 1800MHz band, which is most popular for LTE across the globe. With the partial acquisition of Videocon Telecom’s spectrum, Airtel sets its 4G footprint in 4 new circles – Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh East and West.
Apart from West Bengal, Assam and Jammu & Kashmir in all circles, Airtel can launch 4G/LTE – FDD or TDD or both. (considering 20MHz on 2300MHz or atleast 5MHz on 1800MHz or both)
LTE-Advanced: In 8 circles, Airtel has enough spectrum for both LTE-TDD and FDD. Airtel already has been running field trials for carrier aggregation for LTE-Advanced. In Kerala they demonstrated that peak speed can reach 135Mbps on LTE-A.
LTE on sub 1GHz band: Among the sub 1GHz band, the Indian government had auctioned only 800MHz and that spectrum was taken up by the CDMA operators as CDMA2000 (including 1x, EVDO Rev A and Rev B) was deployed on 800MHz in India. The Defence Ministry owns a huge access on 1900MHz and so, Airtel did not seem to be interested in that band.
In coming years, the government will sell 700MHz band, but the price seems to be too high for all the operators. Even Airtel seems not to be interested.
Partnering up with other operators:
Airtel has some network sharing deals with Jio that includes international bandwidth and existing network infrastructure sharing deals. Even Airtel has plans to ink out similar deals with BSNL to reach out to remote areas.
Currently, Airtel offers call fall back technology to its 4G/LTE subscribers, voice call temporarily goes to 2G/3G network and then again data moves to 4G network. Unlike Jio, Airtel keeps its cards aside for Voice over LTE but watching this evolving technology very closely.
|Platinum 3G(UMTS 900Mhz)|
|Delhi||Delhi, Faridabad, Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon|
|Cat ‘A’||Andra & Telengana||Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam||Guntur, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Nellor, Sricity, Tirupathi, Kakinada|
|Karnataka||Bangalore, Belgaum, Dharwad, Gulbarga, Hubli, Mangalore, Manipal, Mysore, Tumkur, Udupi|
|Maharastra & Goa||Ahmednagar, Amravati, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Nalasopara, Nasik, Pune, Solapur, Vasai, Virar|
|Tamilnadu & Chennai||Chennai, Coimbatore, Erode, Hosur, Madurai, Pondicherry, Salem, Tiruchirappalli, Tirunelveli, Tiruppur, Vellore|
|Cat ‘B’||Haryana||Ambala, Hissar, Karnal, Panipat, Rohtak, Sonipat, Yamunanagar|
|Kerala||Calicut, Cochin, Thrissur, Trivandrum, Manjeri, Tirurangadi, Thalaserry|
|Punjab||Amritsar, Batala, Bathinda, Chandigarh, Fazika, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Khanna, Kotkapura, Kurali, Ludhiana, Malerkota, Mandi Gobindgarh, Moga, Mohali, Muktsar, Nabha, Panchkula, Pathankot, Patiala, Patran, Phagwara, Rajpura, Rayya, Ropar, Samana, Sirhind, Tarn Taran, Zirakpur|
|Rajasthan||Ajmer, Bhilwara, Kota, Udaipur|
|Himachal Pradesh||Baddi, Mandi, Shimla, Solan|
|North East||Agartala, Aizawl, Dimapur, Shillong||Agartala, Aizawl, Dimapur, Imphal, Itanagar, Kohima, Naharlagun, Shilong, Tawang|
|Orissa||Balasore, Berhampur, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jharsuguda, Puri, Rourkela, Sambalpur|
** The chart is updated till April 2016.
Spectrum Refarming on 3G and 4G:
Airtel is refarming its spectrum bank for better utilization of spectrum. For example, 900Mhz, which was being used for 2G services, will now be used for 3G in selected cities.
Airtel's 3G on 900 Mhz, branded as Platinum 3G offers better network coverage, superior indoor signal, lesser power consumption and faster connectivity.
Idea Cellular also launched its 3G on 900 bandwidth, which is up and running in Mumbai and Delhi.
What other Players are up to?
Till now Vodafone, Idea and Telenor have launched their 4G services in the country. While Vodafone is expanding its 4G network slowly and launched it in selected pockets of Kerala, Kolkata, Bangalore and Navi Mumbai; Idea Cellular is expanding very fast.
Idea has launched 4G/LTE in 8 of its 10 circles (AP, Karnataka, Maharastra, Tamilnadu incl. Chennai, Haryana, Kerala, Punjab, North East and Orissa) where it has enough spectrum on 1800MHz band.
Idea is yet to launch LTE in Maharastra and North East. It should be noted that Airtel, Vodafone and Idea, are offering 4G at 3G price or little higher price than 3G.
Telenor India offers 4G in Varanasi only. For Telenor which basically offers 2G voice and data, 4G data is just a big opportunity for revenue.
Tikona also announced a soft launch in Varanasi, which is yet to be confirmed whether it's LTE or MIMO (it's Tikona's basic & existing technology to offer broadband services). Even BSNL has similar launch in Chandigarh, but on 2500 Mhz band.
Let's make it short, right now among existing players only Airtel and Idea seem to be serious on 4G turf.
While Reliance Jio keeps delaying its commercial launch, incumbents will expand their 4G services to keep their high ARPU postpaid and prepaid customers and poach from other operators to try their 4G services. Jio has so much of spectrum across 800, 1800 and 2300Mhz band and extensive fiber coverage across the country. It has tied up with several tower companies and already has its 4G and fiber coverage even in remote areas.
Meanwhile, Jio 4G SIM cards are pre bundled with Reliance Digital's LYF smartphones. Apart from few VoLTE enabled smartphones from LG and Micromax, Jio 4G will be mostly offered over Chinese OEM made LYF smartphones, which have pretty low specs compared to their pricing. 4G uptake has mainly 3 barriers - coverage, affordability and devices. Jio already has good coverage and lower tariff schemes will literally bleed the incumbents, but with Jio's bundled device strategy, incumbents may easily go ahead of the curve as they allow all 4G phones with CSFB voice support.