There is an unmistakable buzz in the Indian telecom industry nowadays. The whiff of much-anticipated commercial launch of Reliance Jio Infocomm’s 4G services is getting stronger with each passing day.
While the details of the final tariff are not yet in the public domain, it is safe to assume that the launch will be disruptive in nature for the entire telecom industry but especially so for the established players. It is not without reason that the incumbents have been focusing on expansion of 4G services even when their 3G services have not yet picked up.
How Do The Incumbents Stack Up?
Bharti Airtel’s 4G network is now present in nearly 350 towns and cities in 15 circles. The company is advertising its network as the widest 4G network in the country. Airtel was the first one to launch 4G in the country way back in 2012. It also acquired Augere Wireless’s 2300Mhz spectrum in two circles and Videocon’s 1800Mhz spectrum to be in a best position to offer 4G services to their subscribers.
On the other hand, Vodafone India’s 4G network is now present in circles of Kerala, Karnataka, Mumbai, Delhi & NCR and Kolkata. Like Airtel, Vodafone is also fast expanding its 4G presence in other circles. The company recently acquired You Broadband for nearly $60million. The deal would give Vodafone India control of fiber-optic network covering its urban markets and would go a long way in supporting Vodafone’s 4G services in the wake of growing competition, especially so from new players like RJio.
However, it is Idea Cellular, which has been expanding its 4G presence silently and without much fanfare. The telco claims that its 4G network now covers 575 towns and cities in 10 circles and is servicing 125 million customers. The company claims to have deployed nearly 14,000 4G base stations.
Network modernization and upgradation has also picked up pace for most of the incumbents. India’s largest telco, Bharti Airtel took a lead with the launch of $9billion Project Leap, involving investment in both, expansion of mobile broadband network as well as modernization of the existing network. Besides, Vodafone is already investing in network modernization as part of Project Spring.
As per various media reports, RJio would be offering up to 75GB of data for as little as Rs 200. Vodafone and Airtel are offering 4G data at 3G tariff plans but the latter has some dedicated 4G plans as well. Both Airtel and Vodafone are offering maximum of 20GB data to postpaid users at a price range of Rs 2499 to Rs 3000 a month. Incumbents might be forced to bring down tariffs post the launch of RJio.
Along with a portfolio of 4G and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) devices through its brand, LYF, RJio also plans to offer MiFi devices at relatively low-cost plans. While the uptake of these devices is slow it is likely to pick up once the services are launched.
RJio also scores over incumbents where applications are concerned. If media reports are any indication, the Greenfield telco would be launching a slew of applications, like Jio Money, Jio Chat, Jio Music, amongst others, suggesting that the telco is interested in going beyond offering the basic services. With the takeover of Network18 a few years back, the company would also be looking to offer some unique content. This is another area which the incumbents are totally ignoring.
If Rjio is able to offer affordable 4G devices (with competitive specifications) and app-ecosystem, it might be in a position to pose a serious challenge to the incumbents. The company would also need to highlight the difference between its VoLTE services and those of the incumbents. However this might be some time away as it is still struggling with putting VoLTE ecosystem in place.
As the country stands on the cusp of RJio’s 4G launch, it is prudent to remember that the market conditions are very different from Reliance’s last outing in the telecom industry and what worked last time might not work this time around. May the best telco win…