By March 2024 we believe we will be able to cover every town and key rural areas as well with 5G: Vittal
Detailed network rollout plans for 5,000 towns in India are completely in place: Bharti Airtel
The price of mobile services in India is very low and needs to go up: Bharti Airtel MD
Telecom operator Bharti Airtel is reportedly slated to roll out its 5G services in the country later this month (August 2022), with plans to extend 5G coverage to all towns and key rural areas by March 2024.
“We intend to launch 5G starting August and extend to a pan-India roll out very soon. By March 2024 we believe we will be able to cover every town and key rural areas as well with 5G,” Bharti Airtel MD and CEO Gopal Vittal said during the company’s post-earnings call.
“In fact, detailed network rollout plans for 5,000 towns in India are completely in place. This will be one of the biggest rollouts in our history,” Vittal added.
The announcement comes nearly a fortnight after Bharti Airtel acquired 19,867.8 MHz of spectrum in the 5G auction for a cumulative total of INR 43,084 Cr. It acquired spectrum in multiple frequency bands – 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100MHz, 3300 MHz and 26 GHz.
Defending the company’s primary acquisitions in the mid-band spectrum, Vittal said that the telco’s capital expenditure would continue to remain around the existing levels.
He also shot down the need for acquiring the expensive 700 MHz band, which requires fewer towers for coverage compared to other bands.
“Our competition does not have such a large mid-band spectrum. Do remember that if we did not have this large chunk of precious mid-band spectrum, we would have had no choice but to buy expensive 700 MHz spectrum,” Vittal added.
He also cautioned that acquiring the 700 MHz band would have led to higher capex owing to the deployment of ‘large power guzzling radios on this band’.
The company also cleared the air around the deployment of non-standalone (NSA) 5G networks.
“…it allows us to use existing 4G technology at no extra cost since we already have the radios and the spectrum that are live on our network…NSA will allow for a faster call connect time on Voice and will also allows us to provide a faster uplink than anyone else given our massive spectrum holdings in the mid band,” Vittal said.
Tariff Hike On The Anvil?
During the earnings call, Vittal also said that the price of mobile services in India is very low and needs to go up.
On Monday, Airtel reported a jump of 465.81% year-on-year (YoY) in its consolidated net profit to INR 1,606.9 Cr for the first quarter (Q1) of the financial year 2022-23 (FY23).
Its average revenue per user (ARPU) grew 2.4% quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) to INR 183 in Q1 FY23. Vittal said that he expects the company’s ARPU to touch INR 200 and eventually INR 300 soon on ‘account of the increase in tariffs’.
Airtel was the first telecom company in the country to successfully conduct a 5G trial in 2018. It also conducted the country’s first rural 5G trial on the outskirts of Delhi, and the first 5G trial on the 700 MHz band in Kolkata last year.
It competes with Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea in the space. The Mukesh Ambani-led Jio also claims to have completed 5G coverage planning in the 1,000 cities. Jio, which was the only purchaser of the 700 MHz band, has also conducted field trials of its 5G telecom gears.
With the telcos splurging big amounts on 5G auction, the telecom operators look all set to deploy their networks to gain the first mover advantage in the space. With Airtel and Jio locked in a high-pitched battle for supremacy, it remains to be seen who will emerge on top after the dust settles.