NEW DELHI: Bharti Airtel’s detailed fifth-generation or 5G network rollout plans for 5,000 towns is completely in place, a number significantly higher than rival Reliance Jio which has completed coverage planning for 1,000 cities. Vodafone Idea is yet to announce its plans.
“We intend to launch 5G starting August and extend to a pan-India rollout very soon. By March 2024 we believe we will be able to cover every town and key rural areas as well with 5G. In fact detailed network rollout plans for 5000 towns in India are completely in place,” said Gopal Vittal, MD, Airtel in a call with analysts a day after the telco reported its Q1FY23 results.
“This will be one of the biggest rollouts in our history,” Vittal exhorted. “While our 3-year Capex will remain around the same levels this rapid rollout could see some advancing of Capex on an on-year basis,” he added.
Vittal said Airtel’s core and radio network are future-proofed and can operate in either non-standalone (NSA) or standalone (SA) mode.
Airtel has signed 5G equipment deals worth $2.5 billion with Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung.
Out of the 22 circles, Ericsson will deploy 5G networks for Bharti Airtel in 11 circles, including Delhi, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, Nokia in nine circles, including Mumbai, and Samsung in two circles, Punjab and Kolkata. All three contracts are for deployments of 5G radio access network gear.
Airtel’s consolidated net profit for the June quarter jumped 467% year-on-year, on the back of 4G user additions and higher data consumption, besides the residual effect of the price hikes, boosting its average revenue per user (ARPU). The telco’s net profit of Rs 1,606.9 crore fell almost 20% from the fourth quarter, FY22 of FY22 as subscriber additions slowed on-quarter due to higher costs, including operational and finance expenses.
Airtel has acquired 100 MHz of 3.5 Ghz as well as 800 Mhz of 26 Ghz spectrum across every circle in the country in India’s first 5G spectrum auction. The telco also bolstered its spectrum holdings in the mid band and low band (1800/2100/900 bands). As a result, the telco spent a total of Rs 43,040 crores on this auction.
While Reliance Jio splurged Rs 40,000 crore to acquire 10 MHz of pan-India 700 MHz spectrum, Airtel completely ignored this band.
According to Airtel MD, the telco’s large pool of mid-band spectrum helped it avoid buying the pricey 700 MHz band. “Not only would the cost have been higher, but it would also have led to more carbon emissions and very very importantly given us no additional coverage than our existing 900 [MHz] spectrum band.”
“Our consistent long term spectrum strategy will help us meet all our objectives – the best 5G experience, 100x capacity enhancement, the most power-efficient solution, and a lower total cost of ownership,” the executive said, adding that it will provide a competitive advantage in the years to come.
Airtel’s shares closed marginally higher at Rs 704.35 on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Tuesday.