Bharti Airtel ups 4G network spending by 25% to $3.9bn

Bharti Airtel has increased the amount it is spending on networks in India by 25% to $3.9 billion, in a plan to move to all-4G operation.

The move will help Airtel compete with Reliance Jio, whose new 4G-only network has wreaked destruction on the Indian mobile market over the past year.

“We believe it is expedient to activate our 4G rollout in terms of coverage and also build additional capacity in existing geographies along with fibre connectivity and backhaul,” said Airtel CFO Nilanjan Roy in a conference call.

A large part of the extra $775 million will be spent on boosting Airtel’s voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) services, an IP-based technology that uses much less bandwidth that today’s mobile voice services yet provides better quality.

Airtel has launched VoLTE in five market areas and will cover the rest of its network by the end of the 2017-18 financial year, the company said.

Gopal Vittal, CEO of Airtel India and South Asia, said on the same call that much of the capex “is really going behind investing in our radio networks” for 4G mobile “and investing in transmission and optical fibre backhaul, which is required for heavy data throughput”. The company carried 780 billion megabytes of data in the second quarter, he said.

Increasing capex “will augment our growth and revenue market share ambitions”, said Roy.

As part of the investment Airtel will refarm its 3G spectrum for 4G operations, though it is likely to retain 2G services, the company said.

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