Bharti Airtel India’s leading Integrated Telecommunications service provider has made steady progress on 4G/LTE and initiated 4G rollout in 23 cities. Airtel’s first mover advantage has the following implications – (a)Dilute value proposition for Reliance Jio 4G by being the first to launch 4G and let Airtel have a lead versus other incumbent telcos (b) De-congest 3G selectively – LTE rollout allows Airtel to de-congest 3G selectively, particularly in markets where it is constrained by 5 MHz of 3G spectrum. Reference can be made to Delhi where Airtel has a 5 MHz block of 3G spectrum and 4G service in addition will allow Bharti to divert traffic from 3G in the medium to long term by segmenting the data market with the two offerings.
Airtel’s Segmented Approach with Multiple Liberalized Spectrum
4G-LTE deployments will use multiple spectrum combinations, suggesting product offering may differ. In some markets we may see 4G services restricted to data cards, while in others it will be a mix of data cards and smart-phones Spectrum in 2300 and 900 combination LTE deployments in 2.3 GHz with coverage support from 3G in 900 may allow Airtel to offer both data cards and smart-phones in metro markets. 1800 and 2300 combination – LTE deployments in 1800 spectrum band in combination with 2300 spectrum in Delhi and Bangalore should allow the company to have both phone and data card offerings. LTE deployments in 1800 only may allow Airtel to offer 4G smartphone in markets such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. 1800 is the most popular
LTE spectrum band with a growing handset ecosystem.
Wireless Mobile Data Card Market – Addressing Rs 6,000 Crore data card market – Inadequate spectrum has prevented Airtel from tapping the data card market earlier. Availability of 20 MHz in 2300 MHz spectrum band in eight circles allows Airtel to tap this incremental revenue opportunity in a more serious manner going forward.
All said, ears on the ground and a dialogue with Network Engineers suggest that stabilization of 4G-LTE Networks is never an easy task and may take few months to a year after launch not just for Airtel but for any operator.