Sunil Mittal: Airtel invites Vodafone Idea to combine optical fibre

Bharti Airtel has invited rival Vodafone Idea to combine their optical fibre assets into a one company.
Airtel Vodafone fibre networkAirtel has 273,600 km of OFC across India. Airtel has 284.2 million phone customers on its 2G, 3G and 4G networks in India. Airtel has a net debt of $15.207 billion as of December 2018.

Vodafone Idea has nearly 240,000 km of OFC in the country. Vodafone Idea has 387.2 million mobile phone subscribers on its 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Vodafone Idea has a net debt of Rs 1,147.6 billion in 2018.

If Vodafone Idea decides to join, this would be the single largest independent fibre company in the country. Vodafone Idea has already initiated separate discussions to monetize from its fibre assets as part of its vision to reduce debt.

Airtel in 2017 said it will transfer its optical fibre business to a wholly-owned subsidiary called Telesonic Networks.

“We will have a fibre company in place by end of March. We have invited Vodafone to come and join,” Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal told a select group of Indian journalists at the Mobile World Congress (MWC 2019) in Barcelona.

If Vodafone accepts the invitation the structure of the optical fibre company will be altered along the lines of Indus Towers.

Indus Towers, the largest telecom tower company, is a three-way joint venture among Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India.

“Vodafone has a lot of fibre, we have a lot of fibre and when we combine these, both the companies will gain about 25 percent capacity on routes we don’t have, but importantly all the future build for fibre starts to become common,” Sunil Mittal said.

Vodafone Idea has over 198,000 2G sites and over 376,000 broadband (3G+4G) sites. The company added 11,241 broadband sites, including 9,066 sites on TDD spectrum to enhance capacity, during the quarter.

Airtel has 175,300 network towers including 164,859 mobile broadband towers. Airtel has 371,562 mobile broadband base stations.


The Indian telecom industry is seeking allocation of the sub-6 GHz spectrum to roll out 5G services and not the millimetre wave.

“My own view is 3500 MHz will be the one on which India probably will launch the services, but an operator needs 100 MHz. Eventually, India will get into 5G in step with the world and my recommendation is that the Government must encourage 5G coming into India early, rather than late…,” Sunil Mittal said.

Sunil Mittal said the 5G spectrum price recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is high.

Earlier, Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read said most of the recommendations from Indian telecom regulator TRAI in the last two years were against Indian mobile operators Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

Vodafone CEO has already achieved progress in combining its telecom infrastructure with rival Telefonica O2 in UK and Telecom Italia (TIM) in Italy as part of the strategy to ensure cost effective roll out of 5G services.

Baburajan K