India’s largest operator Bharti Airtel announced today an ambitious INR600 billion ($9.04 billion) network expansion plan, targeting bringing mobile broadband access to 500,000 villages and reaching 250,000 small towns with fixed broadband over the next three years.
The operator, with a 23.5 per cent market share and 234 million mobile connections, aims to nearly double the number of base stations by adding 160,000 sites over that period.
This fiscal year ending 30 March 2016 will see it deploy 70,000 base stations, making 60 per cent of its network mobile broadband enabled. Its capex for this year is estimated at $2.2 billion.
The company outlined a 10-point plan for its ‘Project Leap’ initiative in a press release today. Highlights include reducing its carbon footprint by up to 70 per cent over the next three years by deploying lower-power radio equipment and investing in green technologies. It plans to reduce its dependency on diesel by using new battery technologies.
It will swap out its older base stations with smaller and more energy-efficient gear that uses a single radio access network to manage multiple spectrum bands.
“Small cells, carrier aggregation solutions, Wi-Fi and other technologies deployed will ensure a world class indoor experience,” the company tweeted.
Airtel also will upgrade its copper broadband lines using vectoring technology, which will allow it to offer 50Mb/s speeds (up from the current 16Mb/s) to its three million broadband customers.
Airtel (India) is the world’s third largest mobile operator, behind China Mobile (824 million) and China Unicom (287 million).
Its rivals are gearing up to launch 4G services to compete against the operator, which announced in August plans to offer 4G service in about 400 towns and villages by the end of the year. The push is aimed at gaining an edge on new entrant Jio, which again has delayed its pan-India 4G launch from June to early next year.
Vodafone India, the country’s second largest operator, said in late August it will launch 4G services in five cities, including Mumbai and Delhi, by the end of the year.