Airtel Broadband to upgrade users to 40 Mbps V Fiber plans to beat Reliance Jio

Locations of Airtel V Fiber services

Airtel Broadband, India’s second largest wired broadband service, will upgrade nearly all its DSL customers to its new ‘V Fiber’ vectorization technology that offers speeds of 40 Mbps, compared to 4-8 Mbps under the traditional ADSL 2 technology.

Company CEO Gopal Vittal said this would make the copper-based offering more competitive with fiber-based offerings from rivals, including upcoming services from Reliance Jio.

It is estimated that the company’s DSL network passes 6 mln homes. Out of these, it has already covered 1.7 mln homes with V Fiber network.

“We are in the process of ironing out some supply chain issues and acquiring modems and so on and so forth, and we will, very very soon, in the next few months, upgrade most of our customers to 40 Mbps,” Vittal said.

The cities where the upgrade has already been started include Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Indore, Hyderabad and Pune.

Vittal also said that there was not much difference in terms of customer experience between a 40 Mbps connection or a 100 Mbps connection. Reliance Jio’s Fiber service is expected to offer 100 Mbps to all customers.

“It’s a delightful experience,” Vittal said. “At 40 Mbps, you can do everything like streaming of television on a large-screen.”

V Fiber technology overcomes one of the key limitations of DSL — the location of DSLAM devices.

DSLAM devices are the ‘originating’ devices for all copper lines leading to the user’s home, and are so big and bulky that they are usually housed in a specified building or telephone exchange, and cannot be placed on the street.

While a user within a distance of 1 to 1.5 km can get up to 8 Mbps using the traditional technology, houses that are located further away have to be content with 2 Mbps.

V Fiber overcomes this in the same manner as the cable companies that use Docsis — by placing originating devices closer to subscriber homes and linking these devices back to the main network using fiber connections.

With this approach, Airtel can avoid having to rip out its existing copper lines and replacing them with fiber lines or installing new fiber lines altogether like Reliance Jio — with obvious implications for cost.

“That has come at a fraction of the cost because it’s an upgradation of our existing copper lines,” Vittal said.

He said the company is expanding its wired network at a rapid pace. Airtel expanded its network by 1 mln ‘home passes’ in the last one year, Vittal said.

“All new home-passes that we’re doing are all based on (V) Fiber,” Vittal said.

A home pass refers to one house passed with the cable, and does not necessarily mean that the household has been signed up as a subscriber. Out of the estimated 6 mln home passes, only 2 mln have subscribed to the company’s landline or broadband service.

In locations where wired approaches do not work, Vittal said, the company will use ‘wireless solutions’ to deliver home broadband.

The company, along with Tata DoCoMo and Tikona Networks, has a track-record of trying to use various ‘fixed wireless’ technologies to deliver home broadband. “We’ve done a lot of experiments in the past. So this is a game we know how to play,” the CEO said.