Airtel ready for 5G, targets pan-India coverage in 2024

airtel 5G
Image by sn040288 | Bigstockphoto

Bharti Airtel chief executive officer Gopal Vittal said that the telco has finalized its 5G strategy to launch high-speed services in 5,000 towns in a short-term, pan-India roll out by March 2024.

Airtel’s 5G service will debut within this month, Vittal revealed during the earnings call.

“We intend to launch 5G starting in 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 5,000 towns in India are completely in place,” Vittal said.

“This will be one of the biggest rollouts in our history. While our three-year capex will remain around the same levels, this rapid rollout could see some advancement of capewx on an in-year basis,” he added.

Airtel banks on spectrum advantage

Airtel will deploy nonstandalone (NSA) 5G at launch, saying that it has more advantages over the standalone (SA) version, namely better coverage and device availability.

Vittal added that Airtel has “solid” mid-band spectrum to offer a better 5G experience to its customers.

“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. We believe this will give us an enduring competitive advantage for years to come,” Vittal said.

Airtel bought 19,867.8 MHz of spectrum in the recent 5G auction. Jio was the most aggressive buyer, bagging 24,740 MHz of airwaves, including 10 MHz in the pricey pan-India 700-MHz band.

Rival 5G plans

Jio is planning to cover 1,000 cities with its 5G service across the country in the first phase of commercial launch, according to the annual report released by parent conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited (RIL).

Vodafone Idea, which picked up 6.228 GHz of airwaves across the 1800-MHz, 2100-MHz, 2500-MHz, 3300-MHz, and 26-GHz bands, has yet to announce its 5G coverage plans.

Vittal added that with the combination of fiber to the tower, synergies from fiber to the home and the availability of E-band microwave spectrum, every site that Airtel rolls out will have the necessary backhaul to provide 5G experience.

Airtel hasn’t finalized pricing for 5G yet, but its management believes that telcos could see an incremental gain in ARPU.

Related article: India sells 5G spectrum worth $19 billion, Jio top spender

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