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BW Businessworld

Customer Will Again Be King For Telecos

Airtel's big ticket announcement of investing Rs 60,000 crore to improve its network service and customer experience has created a ripple. A similar move is also expected from Reliance Jio

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After a lull of sorts in the otherwise vibrant Indian telecom space, Airtel's big ticket announcement of investing Rs 60,000 crore to improve its network service and customer experience has created a ripple. Experts say, Airtel's making an investment-announcement may just be the precursor to more such big bang announcement expected from players like Reliance Jio. If reports are to be believed, Reliance Jio may also announce investing around Rs 100,000 crore in its 4G services when it makes an announcement in next few days.

But what does these big investment numbers mean for the consumers who are still struggling to stay connected during their calls. Will network improvement mean zero call drops? Yes, say some of the telecom experts who regularly track the companies.

Airtel has announced what it calls 'Project Leap' whereby it will be investing Rs 60,000 crore in telecom network over the next three years. This Rs 60,000 crore investment, is over and above the Rs 1,60,000 crore Airtel has already invested in its active and passive network, spectrum, fibre, submarine cables and systems till date. This ambitious program makes Airtel's investment one of the largest by a private sector company in India said the company.

According to a filing to the BSE, the company says it is the largest deployment of network infrastructure in the history of India. Airtel will deploy over 70,000 base stations in FY15-16, making it the largest deployment in a single year since its inception. By March 2016, over 60% of Airtel’s network will be mobile broadband enabled. In three years, Airtel will deploy over 1,60,000 base stations, effectively doubling its presence from what it has on the ground currently.

But the encouragement comes from the fact that Airtel is in line with the government's vision of providing Broadband for all in India, as envisaged in the National Telecom Policy framework unveiled by the previous central government. With Project Leap, Airtel says it will expand its mobile broadband coverage to all towns and over 2,50,000 villages by March 2016. In three years, Airtel plans to offer mobile broadband to over 5,00,000 villages in the country.'

A similar move is also expected from Reliance Jio. In June this year, RIL had said it plans to offer telecom, high-speed data, digital commerce, media and payment services for about Rs 300-500 per month. A significant part of the expected investment announcement from Reliance Jio will also go in towards bringing broadband to all in a time-bound manner.

Consumer to Benefit
"Under Project Leap, Airtel says it will deploy a range of solutions including small cells, carrier aggregation solutions, wi-fi and the use of multiple technologies across different spectrum bands. This will also help in tackling the menace of call drops. In fact, greater number of cell sites will enable the company to provide state-of-the-art coverage on both voice and data services inside buildings across cities," said a senior analyst who tracks Airtel and other telecos.

Airtel said it will cumulatively deploy more than 5,50,000 km of domestic and international fibre, in order to drive down latency, improve customer experience and serve the growing demand of data services for years to come.

The modernisation drive from Airtel is set to benefit the existing customer base too. Airtel says it will swap its legacy networks and base stations over a three-year period and replace them with smaller, more compact and efficient technologies that will significantly improve customer experience. All these modern base stations will use a single radio access network to manage multiple spectrum bands. Also, the company says it plans to "Future proof home broadband network". This means Airtel will modernize its over three million-strong home broadband network by upgrading its Copper lines through new age Vectoring Technology that will enable Airtel to offer 50 mbps speeds from its current 16 mbps by 2016. In addition, Airtel plans to deploy Fibre to the home and offer up to 100 mbps speeds.

Experts said upgrading network is not a choice any more but a reality for the existing telecom service providers else whosoever will get the offerings right will own the customers.

Airtel says it will make substantial investments in green technologies over the next three years. It will deploy modern and lesser power consuming radio technologies that include compact base stations and small cells. It will also leverage multiple band antennas and deploy new battery technologies that will significantly lower energy consumption and reduce diesel dependency. As a result of these initiatives, the company will reduce its carbon footprint by upto 70% on a per unit basis in the next 3 years.

But others inlcuding the Indian arm of Norway-based telecom major Telenor India has already been practicing. In an interaction with BW Businessworld Vivek Sood, now the executive vice-president & chief marketing officer, Telenor Group had said: "The aim is to be 4G-ready while keeping its core brand promise of SabseSasta call and SabseSasta Internet" That is why Telenor India inked a deal with Chinese mobile services operator Huawei for revamping its entire network of 24,000 sites in the next two years at an investment of over Rs 1,200 crore. Telenor India is upgrading 5,000 sites in 2016 and the rest by 2017.

Reliance Jio also plans to initially cover 5,000 towns and cities that account for over 90 per cent of urban India, as well as over 2,15,000 villages, and the target is to expand this to over 6,00,000 villages, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani told shareholders in June 2014.