New Delhi: Bharti Airtel has shut down its 3G networks across 11 circles and plans to re-farm the existing spectrum to boost its 4G networks by March this year, as it aims to on-board more high-speed internet subscribers in the competitive telecom battleground, a top company official said.
This comes after the company in August announced that it aims to shut down its 3G network across India’s 22 telecom circles by March 2020, and increase its focus on providing better services to high-paying users.
Bharti Airtel had started the process in July by shutting its 3G network in Kolkata, followed by Haryana and Punjab circles.
The telecom major continues to provide 2G services for feature phone users.
“3G shut down has been done in 11 circles....and all of our 2100 MHz spectrum will be refarmed by March for 4G networks," Bharti Airtel’s chief executive officer Gopal Vittal said in a post earnings call with investors on Wednesday.
Voice over Long-Term Evolution (VoLTE) is a standard for high-speed wireless communication for mobile phones. In India, only Reliance Jio operates a pure 4G-VoLTE network. Airtel, India’s second-largest telecom operator by revenue, plans to focus solely on 2G and 4G. Vodafone Idea operates 2G, 3G and 4G networks as of now.
Bharti Airtel also plans to expand its tower footprint to increase the spread of 4G services. As of December end, Bharti Airtel had 1.88 lakh mobile broadband towers compared with 1.81 lakh as of September end.
“We plan to increase the number of towers next year as well. The push will be primarily in rural areas where there is a need to drive 4G," said Vittal on Wednesday.
Bharti Airtel on Tuesday reported a net loss of ₹1,035 crore in the December quarter compared to a profit of ₹86 crore in the year-ago period, as the company set aside funds to pay adjusted gross revenue dues to the government and comply with a Supreme Court verdict.
Losses, however, narrowed year-on-year.
The company's consolidated revenue from operations rose by 8.5% to ₹21,947 crore during October-December.
In December, the company raised tariffs by as much as 40% and raised the minimum monthly recharge for prepaid users to ₹45.
Airtel’s monthly average revenue per user from mobile services in India rose to ₹135 in the December quarter from ₹128 in the September quarter. On this metric, it beat Jio which recorded an average revenue per user of ₹128.4 in the December quarter.
“ARPUs need to move up till ₹300 in the long term. At this level, the company would be able to secure a 15% return on capital. At ₹200, we would be barely above the water in terms of return on investment," Vittal said, adding that it is essential that operators have healthy balance sheets and capital to invest.