Did Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Undermine 4G-LTE Which Reliance Jio embraced ?

Airtel 4G Network ExpansionA key question I’m always asked is whether Airtel should have launched 4G even before to give it more time. The strategy behind Airtel’s 4G LTE launch was to pre-empt Reliance Jio. It launched commercial 4G operations in August-15 across 296 towns. Airtel has subsequently increased its footprint (is an ongoing process). The launch has been backed by heavy marketing to educate users on 4G.

Analytics Data obtained by profiling Airtel’s customers suggest the timing has been appropriate as an earlier launch wouldn’t have made much impact given the nascent handset ecosystem. Currently, only ~2% of the handsets are 4G LTE enabled, which implies ~4m potential subscribers for 4G. Out of this, it disclosed that 50% of these have already converted to 4G and we estimate 4G data revenue contributes ~2% of Airtel’s mobile revenue. The growth from hereon is likely to be rapid given the increasing availability of affordable 4G handsets.

Vodafone has launched 4G in Kochi (Kerala) and plans to launch in three more cities in early CY16 – Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore (Karnataka). These four cities account for 50% of its data market, with Mumbai alone accounting for 30% of its data revenue. The company has disclosed that 3% of its consumers have 4G phones compared to 28% of its subscribers having 3G handsets.

Idea has launched 4G across 75 towns in four circles – AP, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It plans to roll out in six more circles by March-16 and is on track to cover 750 towns by June-16. The company, including the spectrum acquired from Videocon, has spectrum to cover 75% of its revenue base (similar to Airtel). The company disclosed that ~2.2m of its subscribers currently have 4G handsets; 1.3% of its subscriber base.

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