India’s largest operator Bharti Airtel announced it will expand its 4G service, currently offered in 45 cities and towns, to 296 urban areas over the next few weeks to gain an edge on rival Reliance Jio Infocomm, which has delayed its pan-India 4G launch from June to the end of the year.

The Economic Times said earlier in the week that Airtel intended to roll out its 4G network to an additional 100 Indian cities by the end of the year.

Airtel, with a 24 per cent market share, said it is offering 4G service at its 3G data rates, with packages starting at INR25 ($0.39).

The operator now has 4G spectrum in 14 service areas. India is divided into 22 telecoms service areas or circles. Airtel first launched 4G in 2012 in Kolkata. 4G connections account for just over 400,000 of its 230 million mobile connections, according to GSMA Intelligence.

New-entrant Jio said in June it will commercially launch 4G services in December, following an “extensive beta launch”. Earlier reports said it faced penalties if services were not available by the end of June. It is the only private player with broadband wireless spectrum in all 22 circles.

Vodafone India, the country’s number 2 player with a 19 per cent market share, has said it will introduce 4G service later this year, while number 3 Idea Cellular aims to launch next year.

Vodafone has responded to Airtel’s aggressive 4G pricing by effectively cutting prepaid 3G data rates in Mumbai in half. Its Double Data offer started the first week of August and is available to users making recharges on its website or via the MyVodafone app.

Vodafone accounts for almost a third of total revenue in the Mumbai service area, the Times said. Almost 60 per cent of its 8.4 million customers in Mumbai are data users.