Bharti Airtel’s roll-out of 5G on a pan-Indian basis will cover every town and key rural areas by March 2024, the company’s chief executive officer and managing director, Gopal Vittal, said in a post-results conference call, according to a Business Standard report.
“We intend to launch 5G starting August and extend to a pan-Indian roll-out very soon. Detailed network roll-out plans for 5,000 towns in India are in place,” said Vittal.
He, however, did not give the launch date and said the company was yet to decide on pricing its 5G plans.
Airtel, saw nearly a six-fold jump in its net profit in the first quarter of FY23 to Rs 1,607 crore on a year-on-year basis.
Bharti Airtel (Airtel) has also signed 5G network agreements with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung to commence 5G deployment in August 2022.
“While our three-year capex plan will remain around the same levels, this rapid roll-out could see some advancement of capex on an in-year basis,” Vittal said.
“Globally 5G is not yet giving incremental average revenue per user (ARPU) to any operator. In India, tariffs are still low. We expect them to increase. Once they do, the economics will change and the returns on capital will get better,” Vittal added.
He defended Airtel’s spectrum purchase strategy and said it met the company’s objective of providing the best in class 5G experience at lower costs.
Bharti Airtel acquired 19,867 MHz, worth Rs 43,084 crore, in the recently concluded spectrum auction.
700 MHz offers wide coverage and a standalone network offers wider enterprise-level opportunities such as remote surgeries, robotics, and autonomous cars.
Vittal, however, said there were a lot of misconceptions about the 700 MHz band.
“This band is no different from 850 MHz or 900 MHz in terms of propagation. All it does is provide coverage at the edge, deep indoor, or in far-flung areas, and gives at best 4G speeds. Nothing more,” Vittal told analysts.
The report further added that Airtel will deploy a non-standalone network and has been acquiring a mid-band spectrum in several circles over the past few years as a part of a well-thought-out strategy to support its 5G roll-out.
All devices work in non-standalone mode and they are also supported by a wide eco-system.
In the US and South Korea, where both standalone and non-standalone networks have been launched, the traffic on standalone is less than 10 per cent of the total 5G traffic. Another advantage is that companies can use existing 4G technology at no extra cost.