India’s largest operator Bharti Airtel reportedly is close to finalising a deal to buy 4G spectrum from smaller rival Aircel for about INR38 billion ($357 million) to expand its 4G footprint as mobile newcomer Reliance Jio prepares to launch 4G service nationwide.
The agreement to buy Aircel’s 2.3GHz spectrum in eight service areas, where Airtel doesn’t currently own airwaves in that band, would expand its 4G spectrum holdings from 15 to 18 regions, the Economic Times reported. A deal is expected by the end of Q1, sources told the newspaper.
Competition in the country’s 4G market has intensified with the pending entry of Jio, the only operator to own 4G spectrum across India (22 service areas). After multiple delays last year, Jio said it will officially launch 4G service by early March and also recently closed spectrum deals with Reliance Communications (RCom).
Number four RCom and Jio finalised a spectrum sharing and trading alliance that will see RCom sell 800MHz spectrum in nine regions to Jio and both share bandwidth in the same band in 17 service areas. As part of the agreement, the two companies also plan to enable roaming between their networks within service areas. They already have long-term deals to share tower and fibre assets nationwide.
RCom recently paid the Department of Telecom INR53.84 billion ($805 million) to ‘liberalise’ its spectrum in the 800MHz band so it can trade and share the airwaves with Jio.
In August Airtel acquired 100 per cent of Augere Wireless Broadband, which owned 20MHz of 2.3GHz spectrum in the Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh region.
While Jio has delayed its 4G launch, Airtel has aggressively pushed 4G across the country and said back in August it plans to expand its 4G service, available in 45 cities and towns, to 296 urban areas.
But less than 700,000 of its 238 million mobile connections are 4G, according to GSMA Intelligence.