The competitive intensity between Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel is set to rise. Just days after Reliance Jio said it was deploying additional spectrum across Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, Bharti Airtel has set in motion plans to add airwaves in eight key markets, including Punjab and Gujarat, in the coming weeks.
Sunil Mittal-led Airtel rolled out additional airwaves in the 1800 MHz band in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala on Monday and will add units in the 900 MHz band in the latter two circles shortly.
Both telcos aim to boost 4G broadband coverage as vast swathes of India’s corporate workforce operate from home amid lockdowns during the Covid second wave. The two operators are leveraging recent spectrum purchases to attract new data subscribers and users from Vodafone Idea. The result: consumers are unlikely to see an increase in their mobile phone bills soon.
With the fight for mobile broadband users hotting up between Airtel and Jio via fresh spectrum deployments, tariff hikes could be delayed by at least another three months, and any revenue growth till then would come from user adds and a mixed improvement via a larger share of 4G users.
After deploying 11.2 units and 5 units of additional 1800 MHz airwaves in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, respectively, Airtel is set to add airwaves in the 900 MHz band in Gujarat, UP-East, Kerala, Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand to boost high-speed data capacity.
Last week, Jio deployed an extra 20 units of 4G airwaves in AP/Telangana and 15 units in Karnataka.
Airtel is also adding extra spectrum in the 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz bands in Punjab, MP, and Odisha shortly to ramp up 4G coverage and boost 5G-readiness. It will also deploy an 800 MHz spectrum in MP in a few weeks.
In the initial weeks, “Airtel is likely to go flat out to maximize 4G user gains in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where it has the largest spectrum bank among operators,” said another company executive. This, since the adoption of work from home, online classes, and video streaming has surged, calling for additional spectrum capacities to maintain network experience.
In the auction in March, Airtel acquired 355.45 units of airwaves worth Rs 18,699 crore and market leader Jio picked up 488.35 units in 22 circles for Rs 57,123 crore. Since both telcos have 5G-ready networks, they bulked up on crucial airwaves to cater to the surge in data usage and future-proof themselves ahead of 5G rollouts.