Telecom major Bharti Airtel is all set to roll out 4G mobile services in Delhi and Mumbai next month and started distributing compatible Sim cards last week through company-run stores across the two cities.
Airtel stores in the national capital have started offering 4G-compatible Sim cards to its post-paid and pre-paid subscribers since last week. Airtel has also given some 4G mobile handsets on a trial basis to ascertain its quality of network and services.
The company recently got an approval from the department of telecommunications (DoT) to offer 4G services in Delhi and Mumbai after a series of demonstrations to the Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring (TERM) Cell of the DoT and security agencies concerned.
Bharti Airtel has already launched 4G services in Kolkata, Bangaluru, Pune, Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula. It roughly has over 2 lakh subscribers on its 4G service.
The company is looking at expediting the launch of its sub-$100 device that will support all bands of spectrum, including 4G band, through its partnership with world’s biggest telecom company China Mobile.
Earlier this year, Bharti Airtel and China Mobile signed agreements in Barcelona to buy devices like smartphones, data cards, Mi-Fi, amongst others, all of which will add to deliver 4G services besides sub-$100 device in a bid to accelerate the 4G ecosystem in India.
“The aim of Bharti Airtel is to be the first on 4G and take on Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJIO), which is expected to start its 4G mobile services sometime in the third quarter of this year in phases,” said a top industry official.
Bharti Airtel had earlier planned to start its 4G operations in Delhi and Mumbai last year, but it was delayed after the DoT objected to its licence conditions under which 4G spectrum in these two circles bought from Qualcomm had an an Internet Service Provider (ISPs) licence and not a Universal Access Service Licence (UASL), as mandated for offering voice and data services through 4G.
DoT was considering raising a demand of Rs 436 crore for Bharti Airtel as an additional fee for migrating to UASL.
However, early this year, the Telecom Dispute Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) asked DoT to give conditional approval to the licence merger issue, which subsequently cleared the decks for the launch of its 4G operations in the two metros.
The TDSAT is expected to give its final verdict on May 19 or May 20.
Government sources said if the TDSAT decision goes in favour of Bharti Airtel, it could trigger the acquisition of 4G airwaves held by some telecom companies holding on ISP licences.
Bharti bought Qualcomm’s BWA licences in Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala and Haryana in 2013 and formed a company called Airtel Broadband Services. Early last year, the Bombay High Court approved the merger of ABSPL with its parent Bharti Airtel.
However, the DoT did not permit merging Qualcomm’s ISP licence in the circles of Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala along with its BWA spectrum with the Bharti Airtel’s UASL in the respective circles.
Under the terms of the Broadband Wireless Access (BWA), also called Long Term Evolution or 4G auction, held in May 2010, an applicant could bid as either an ISP or for a UASL.
While Qualcomm had bid as an ISP, Bharti Airtel already had a UASL licence. It had contended before TDSAT that as it already had a UASL licence in four cirlces where it bought 4G spectrum of Qualcommm, it did not need to pay a UASL licence fee to use its BWA spectrum for mobile telephony.
However, Rjio, which did not have a UASL licence but an ISP licence, was asked to pay for a UASL licence to use its BWA spectrum for mobile telephony. Rjio had to move from ISP to UASL as it had no spectrum or operation in any of the 22 telecom circles in the country.