Idea Cellular Plans to Launch VoLTE in 2018; to Deploy 4G on 2500 Mhz

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India's third largest telecom service provider, Idea Cellular, today revealed that it would launch voice over LTE or VoLTE service on its 4G LTE network by early calendar year 2018. The company, however, earlier said that it would introduce VoLTE within 2017 calendar year.

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According to media reports, Idea Cellular is currently in talks with telecom gear vendors like Ericsson and Nokia for the deployment of VoLTE services.

Currently, Reliance Jio is the only telecom operator, which is offering nationwide VoLTE services to its customers. Bharti Airtel, the country’s leading telecom operator by users, will soon join the VoLTE race by launching VoLTE-based voice calling in key markets or big cities by the end of FY18, with trials underway in 5-6 key markets, its chief executive Gopal Vittal recently said on Wednesday.

Vodafone India, the country’s second largest telecom operators, is already trialling VoLTE in select areas

Idea Cellular also revealed that it would deploy a 4G network using 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz spectrum band in five of its leading markets during the current financial year. It added that the deployment of 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz spectrum band would further boost Idea’s 4G capacity in these key markets.

Idea Cellular has added 5724 new 4G cell sites and 1608 new 3G cell sites in the first quarter ended June 30, 2017, taking the overall 4G cell site count to 46,576, and 3G cell site count to 70,810. The number of the 2G cell site, however, has come down from 131,486 in the fourth quarter to 131,059 in the quarter. Notably, Idea Cellular's overall user base has declined from 189.5 million in the Q4 to 189 million in the first quarter.

During last two years, Idea said that it has aggressively expanded its wireless broadband infrastructure by 3.5 times by adding 83,765 sites (3G+4G), expanding the network to 117,386 broadband sites (3G+4G). Idea’s wireless broadband network (3G+4G) now covers 524 million Indians across all 22 service areas in over 106,000 towns and villages. With the addition of 46,576 4G sites in the same period, the company rapidly expanded its 4G-LTE presence to 47,000 towns & villages and now covered 30.2% population in 20 service areas, reaching out to 353 million Indians.

Idea said that 4G network is fast emerging as the preferred platform for mobile data consumption amongst Indian subscribers.

While the total Mobile data users on Idea network declined from 42.2 million (Q4FY17) to 38.1 million (Q1FY18), 4G subscribers more than doubled from 3.1 million (Q4FY17) to 6.5 million (Q1FY18). Further, the data usage on 4G platform exploded to 67.6 billion MB in Q1FY18 (from 18.7 billion MB in Q4FY17), sequential quarterly growth at 262%. Despite such accelerated growth in 4G data volume, Idea’s 4G network utilization (excluding still to be deployed 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz capacity spectrum) remains below 30%.

The planned deployment of 2300 MHz or 2500 MHz spectrum band in 5 of its leadership markets during the current financial year will further boost Idea’s 4G capacity in these key markets. Additionally, the company also remains on course to introduce VoLTE – Voice services on 4G LTE network by early Calendar Year 2018.

In order to support the burgeoning demand for mobile broadband services, Idea also increased its Fibre network by nearly 53,000 km (95,100 km in Q1FY16 to 148,100 km in Q1FY18). The company’s Gross Investment in Fixed Assets has now risen to over Rs 1,195 billion, a net addition of Rs 545 billion over the last 24 months.

The capex spend for the quarter was Rs. 11.7 billion, mainly funded from Cash Profit of Rs. 9,608 million. The capex guidance for FY18 stands at Rs. 60 billion.

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