The largest telecom brand in India by subscribers, Airtel also has one of the widest and most far-reaching networks by coverage area. And like other older operators, the network has been built on offering 2G and 3G coverage, before an eventual switch to LTE connectivity. However, going forward, it seems that Airtel may be looking to finally phase out its older networks, and switch to an LTE-only setup.
The idea of only offering LTE services may sound a bit exclusive to those with affordable non-LTE devices, but its a concept that Reliance Jio has already cracked. Among the newest full-fledged operators in the country, Jio launched on a 4G-only network, having acquired spectrum only for 4G services. Considering that most phones today, including budget offerings, come with 4G compatibility, this isn’t an issue. Jio has also launched its own JioPhone range, 4G-compatible budget feature phones to use on the network.
The hint of this comes through an interview given to ET by Gopal Vittal, CEO of Airtel. In the interview, Vittal suggested that growth in demand for 4G services means that the company could re-allocate the spectrum in the 900MHz band (currently used for 2G services) to LTE connectivity, while 1800MHz spectrum will continue to serve 2G needs.
Further, 3G services are no longer generating significant revenue, indicating that it could also be re-allocated to 4G. The re-allocation of the 900MHz band is reportedly already done in Karnataka, and could be done soon in other circles as well.
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This way, a large chunk of spectrum and resources will be used to boost 4G connectivity, thus ensuring better data speeds and voice call quality, while legacy devices and relatively remote areas remain served by small capabilities in 2G. 3G connectivity itself seems to no longer serve a purpose since data can be handled by LTE and voice by 2G. If these plans go through, we could soon see Airtel join Reliance Jio as a 4G-only operator, and this could also help boost data speeds on the Airtel network as more resources are pressed into 4G connectivity.