4G business picks up in India

Ascom Network testing
Data business revenue from 4G services is increasing for telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone. Reliance Jio Infocomm will hit the 4G space later this year.

The main concerns among 4G subscribers are poor coverage. If 4G users travel from their main town to small towns, they are not getting adequate coverage.

2016 will be marking as the 4G year with significant investment from telecom operators. Reliance Jio is investing a total of $20 billion. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular have enhanced their Capex (capital expenditure) to meet the data demands of India’s 900 million plus mobile subscribers across the country.

4G services, available in the global market since 2010, have been delayed in India until now owing to the lack of availability of smartphones supporting Indian 4G band (2300 MHz).

With smartphones equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, the Snapdragon 615, and the Snapdragon 810 chipsets being introduced in 2015 with native support for 4G LTE-FDD and LTE-TDD bands used in India, about 90 percent smartphones launched in 2015 support both 2300 MHz and 1800 MHz 4G bands, which are used in India.

All major telecom companies have assured lucrative offers and better presence for their 4G network this year, while 2015 witnessed them trying to set the base for 4G penetration in India.

With about 90 million plus customers utilizing the 3G network in India, the telecom sector intends to target this customer base for the 4G network in the coming years. As of now, Reliance Jio has the capability of providing 4G services across all 22 circles in India, Bharti Airtel can provide it in 15, Idea Cellular in 10 and Vodafone in 5 circles. BSNL will launch 4G in 14 telecom circles.

Currently, Reliance Jio is putting up new towers every day and is said to have crossed Bharat Sanchar Nigam’s tally of 1.20 lakh towers to claim the position of No 4 in India in terms of cell sites. The company with the world’s biggest startup with an investment of over Rs 150,000 crore and was expected to start operations with around 70,000-80,000 towers, has not started operations despite crossing the 1.2 lakh mark.

Reliance Industries (RIL) chairman Mukesh Ambani claimed that the group’s telecom wing, Reliance Jio Infocomm would offer broadband speeds up to 80 times faster than current offerings at affordable rates.

Telecom analysts who have tested Jio’s 4G network say they have experienced peak download speed of 70 Mbps during trials, and on most occasions it is in the 15-30 Mbps range even when the user is on the move. Additionally, Jio also got into a spectrum sharing deal with Reliance Communications to ensure that it has access to spectrum in the 800 MHz bands in 7 more circles together with the 10 it has already won in auctions. Besides, it also has 1800 Mhz airwaves in 14 circles. Both 800 Mhz and 1800 Mhz bands can be used for 4G services as well.

Bharti Airtel, which has been the number one network when it comes to the 4G services in India, having launched India’s first 4G network in 2012, has at present introduced its 4G services in 15 circles, spanning over 450 towns in the country.

The Sunil Mittal-promoted telecom operator also acquired Qualcomm’s airwaves in 4 circles, earlier. Airtel also acquired Augere Wireless which owned 4G airwaves in the Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh circle. To add to it, Airtel has also tied up with the e-commerce vendor Flipkart and smartphone provider Samsung for marketing initiatives.

Bharti Airtel, with a speed in 25-30 Mbps range which at times goes up to 50 mbps, has recently claimed to deliver data speeds of up to 135 Mbps on commercially available mobile devices on Airtel’s 4G network in Kerala, by using carrier aggregation across TD LTE and LTE FDD on a LIVE 4G network, becoming the first mobile operator in India to commercially deploy LTE-Advanced (4G+) technology.

Idea Cellular has 4G presence in 575 towns across its 10 leading circles. Idea also becomes the first 4G broadband service provider in 250 towns out of these 575. Idea Cellular is now servicing over 125 million users with its 4G LTE services, built on 14,000+ 4G sites across the country.

The Aditya Birla-group promoted company owns 1800 MHz 4G spectrum in 10 telecom circles which cover 50 percent of telecom market. The 4G service has tested to have a speed of around 30 Mbps.

Vodafone’s 4G data speed is generally between 5 and 10 Mbps, going up to only 15 Mbps. Vodafone India has 4G presence in 5 telecom circles.

BSNL is the latest entrant in the 4G providers, and will be launching 4G services in 14 telecom circles. Previously, BSNL soft launched 4G services in Chandigarh. With its 20 MHz of spectrum in 2,500 MHz band, it has been tested to offer a speed of 35 Mbps.

Aircel holds 20 MHz of spectrum in the 2300 MHz (4G) band across Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, the North East and Jammu & Kashmir, and has commercially launched 4G services in six of the eight circles for its enterprise customers.

Telecom network operators are eager to expand their 4G coverage. It’s time for giving publicity to 4G speed and 4G coverage to attract customers.

Vina Krishnan
editor@telecomlead.com