The fastest networks for Internet connectivity on phones currently are 3G and 4G. A 4G network potentially offers download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, and can be used for HD video streaming, online gaming and a much more evolved Web browsing and app usage experience on a smartphone. It is expected that this is the year when India will begin to realize the potential of 4G telecom services.

The first 4G spectrum auction was conducted in May 2010. At the time, Airtel, Reliance Jio (earlier known as Infotel), Aircel, Tikona and Qualcomm were granted licences by the Union government.

Dealing with spectrum shortage (some of the spectrum was in dispute with the defence forces), the government in 2014 also opened up the 1,800 MHz band for 4G use, which was so far being used for 2G services. During the 2014 auction, service providers Vodafone and Idea Cellular were among the companies which bagged licences.

The operators who won 4G licenses in the 2010 auction are obligated to provide 90% 4G coverage in metro cities and 50% in rural areas within five years from the date of allocation. The deadline for this is June-end. If they fail to comply, the spectrum can be taken back and re-auctioned.

Keeping in mind the fact that two separate auctions have taken place, and the deadline for rolling out services is approaching, we take stock of popular mobile service providers who are rolling out 4G services to their subscribers.

Reliance Jio

In 2010, Infotel (now Reliance Jio) got the licence to launch the 4G service in all 22 circles, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, the North-East and Karnataka. At the 2014 auction, the company won additional spectrum in 14 circles. Despite having the lion’s share of the spectrum, the operator is yet to offer 4G services anywhere in the country. The operator was expected to launch it in September last year, but couldn’t as the infrastructure wasn’t ready. According to a report by financial services provider Credit Suisse, which was published on 19 May, Reliance Jio is expected to launch its 4G services in mid-July. The company has not released any official statement on this report yet.

Bharti Airtel

At the 2010 auction, Airtel got the licence to offer 4G services in four circles—Maharashtra and Goa, Punjab, Karnataka and Kolkata. In 2013, Airtel acquired Qualcomm’s entire 4G business in India, and added Qualcomm’s four circles—Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala. At the 2014 auction, Airtel got licence for 15 more circles.

Airtel was the first mobile service provider to launch 4G in India, and currently covers 19 cities in the telecom circles of Kolkata, Punjab, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa.

However, there is lack of parity in the services from one circle to the other. For example, a user in Chandigarh can only use 4G on Wi-Fi dongles and at Wi-Fi hot spots, whereas a user in Bengaluru can also access 4G on their smartphone. Despite this difference, the tariff plans are largely similar across all cities. The best value plan costs 255 (28 days validity), which allows 1 GB free data use.

Aircel

At the 2010 auction, Aircel bagged licences for eight circles—Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, the North-East, and Jammu and Kashmir. In the 2014 auction, it won more spectrum in Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, the North-East and Uttar Pradesh (East), while also adding Rajasthan. Apart from Airtel, Aircel is the only operator which is actively offering 4G services in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir. The company’s 4G tariffs are not listed on the website and it did not reply to our mail asking for the tariff plans.

Vodafone

In 2010, Vodafone stayed away from the spectrum auction. In 2014, it was awarded the spectrum in 1800 MHz band for 11 circles—Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (East). However, the operator can offer 4G services in only five circles—Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Karnataka and Kerala. It is yet to launch services anywhere, but is planning to roll it out in select towns by the end of the year.

Idea Cellular

The operator has licences in 11 circles, which it acquired in the 2014 auction. These are Maharashtra and Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, the North-East, Gujarat and Haryana. However, like Vodafone, the company is adopting a wait-and-watch policy before it consolidates its plans to launch 4G services.

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