New Delhi: Bharti Airtel will shut down its 3G network across India’s 22 telecom circles by March 2020, and increase its focus on providing 4G services, a top company official said.

The company started the process last month, when it wound down the 3G network in the Kolkata circle. It, however, continues to provide 2G services for feature phone users.

“This has worked very well in Kolkata. Now we will do this process across India. By September, we will shut down six to seven circles and by March, the entire 3G network pan-India will shut down," Bharti Airtel chief executive Gopal Vittal said in the post-earnings call with analysts on Friday.

This marks the first phase-out of the 3G technology in India, which is now increasingly moving to 4G, triggered by the entry of 4G-only Reliance Jio in September 2016. Rival Vodafone Idea continues to provide 2G, 3G and 4G services.

In Kolkata, Airtel has reformed the 900MHz spectrum band, used for 3G, to strengthen its 4G network. The telecom operator is deploying L900 technology in the 900MHz band to complement its 4G services in the 2300MHz and 1800MHz bands.

The move, Airtel expects, will improve 4G availability inside buildings and coverage across homes in Kolkata.

However, the company does not expect much cost savings by shutting down 3G as it would continue to use the same equipment to offer 4G services. “Our capex will continue for deployment of new sites and some loading on 2300MHz band," Vittal said.

On Thursday, Airtel Ltd posted its first quarterly loss in 14 years amid a brutal price war unleashed by Reliance Jio. Airtel swung to a 2,866 crore loss in the quarter ended 30 June from net profits of 97 crore in the year earlier, as finance costs rose and it incurred a one-time loss of 1,445 crore.

However, its consolidated revenue from operations grew 4.7% to 20,738 crore in the June quarter from 19,799 crore a year ago. Revenue from its Indian wireless business grew 4.1% year-on-year to 10,724 crore. Airtel’s consolidated net debt was 1.16 trillion as of June-end.

The silver lining for the firm is that its average monthly revenue per user from Indian mobile services rose to 129 in the quarter from 123 in the preceding three months. This is also due to the fact that its subscriber base has shrunk.

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