Bharti Airtel doubles 4G deployment speed

Bharti Airtel, the former No.1 telecom provider of India, has doubled the pace of its 4G roll-out by adding nearly 333 new 4G base stations every day during the July-September period.

That works to over 10,000 base stations per month, or almost 14 new 4G base stations per hour — including at night.

In comparison, the total number of wireless broadband sites added by Vodafone Idea during the three months from Apr-Jun was 10,125, while it was around 19,650 in the three months before that.

The current pace of 4G roll-out is also unprecedented for Bharti Airtel itself, and is nearly 2x its regular pace of deployment.

For example, for the preceding 12 months, Bharti Airtel had been adding 4G base stations at the rate of 5,263 per month on average. For Vodafone Idea, the number was 4,449 towers per month.

The strong investment also reflected in a strong increase in 4G subscriber numbers. The company added 14.4 million new 4G users during the three months — almost catching up with market leader Reliance Jio.


The frenetic pace of deployment and additions could also be seen in Airtel’s wired broadband service.

The company adding an unprecedented 28 cities to its national footprint during the three months, taking the total number of cities to 145 across India.

In comparison, the company took exactly two years — or nearly eight times as long — to add its previous 28 cities.

Customer additions too showed a pick-up in this business.

Bharti Airtel added 129,000 new wired home broadband customers during the three months from July-September, which works out to 43,000 new customers per month on average.

In comparison, during full year (12 months), Bharti Airtel had managed to add only 153,000 new home broadband customers, or an average of 12,750 new users per month.


Much of the acceleration in both the wireless and the wired broadband business is likely related to the increasing pressure being brought on by competition from Reliance Jio.

The Mukesh Ambani led company has emerged as the top 4G operator in India by adding 5-8 million new 4G users per month for the last three to four years.

At around eight lakhs, Jio is also estimated to have more than twice as many 4G base stations as Bharti Airtel.

On the wired broadband side, Jio is also adding more than 1 lakh new customers per month, and Airtel still has a long way to catch up as it is adding only around 43,000.

Meanwhile, lacking the funds required to take on Jio’s aggressive expansion plans, Airtel has come up with an alternate strategy involving tie-ups with potentially tens of thousands of cable operators across the country.

Under the model, Airtel will provide the upstream connectivity and end-customer devices, while cable operators will provide last-mile connectivity.

In fact, Airtel’s sudden expansion of its wired network to 28 new cities is likely the early result of this new strategy.

As far as wireless data is concerned, Airtel continued to remain the No.1 operator in India in terms of per-capita consumption.

On average, each of Airtel’s 162 million data customers consumed around 16 GB of data per month, which is about 40% higher than what an average Jio consumer uses.

On the issue of data consumption, rival Vodafone Idea too is likely to have witnessed a sharp uptick in per-capita data consumption during the July-September period due to its ‘double data’ offer that gives 1 GB of LTE data at just around Rs 2, compared to Rs 3.6 per GB on Jio and Airtel.