NEW DELHI: Market leader Bharti Airtel is investing a majority of the Rs 20,000 crore in the current fiscal into fourth-generation (4G) technology and fibre-based network, as it has minimised roll out of 3G and 2G infrastructure in the country, a top official said.
“Most of the investment will go into 4G and fibre. We are not rolling out too much of 3G or 2G networks any more,” Bharti Airtel chief executive Gopal Vittal told ET.
He added that the country’s largest operator has already covered more than 500,000 villages with 2G network infrastructure, and hence would not need to roll out more 2G networks.
Last week, Bharti group chairman Sunil Mittal said India’s largest telecom company plans to invest between Rs 18,000 crore and Rs 20,000 crore in the fiscal ending March 2018.
Vittal said the telco is currently putting strong efforts into rolling out and expanding 4G-VoLTE (Voice over LTE) services and deploying 4.5G with massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology, and fibre-based backhaul to provide seamless data services to its 280 million subscribers.
In partnership with Chinese gear vendor Huawei, Airtel has deployed massive MIMO in Kolkata and Bangaluru and will roll it out in other circles starting this week.
“This (massive MIMO) is pre 5G, more like 4.5G. These additional units will come into congested areas and later in less congested area, and it will scale up capacity,” Vittal said, adding that the technology will facilitate a transition to 5G, for which it also needs more backhaul and fibre.
The Aditya Birla group’s Idea Cellular is also deploying massive MIMO on its Time Division Duplex (TDD) network and according to its chief executive Himanshu Kapania, the Mumbai-based telco will also bring this technology to its Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) network in future.
When asked if Airtel will be keen to buy spectrum in the highly efficient but expensive 700 Mhz band, Vittal said, “Prices were high (on the band in the previous auction). If good spectrum is put at right price, then it may find some buyers”.
In October 2016, the government had put up airwaves in the premium 700 Mhz band, which are considered very efficient to offer 4G services. But citing exorbitant price, no buyer turned up, with Mittal terming base price of Rs 11,485 crore per unit as too expensive to purchase.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), as part of its latest spectrum auction consultation, is reconsidering the reserve price of 700 Mhz band, and it has recently extended a deadline for comments and counter-comments by October 9 and October 16 respectively from the earlier September 25 and October 3.
Bharti Airtel’s top executive, however, added that the telco has sufficient amount of spectrum to cater to all its needs and is working to make use of the airwaves it has.