The mobile telephony market is set to sizzle with competition, with Vodafone India, the country’s second largest mobile operator by revenue and subscriber base, also joining the race for launch of 4G services by the end of the current calendar year. Rival Bharti Airtel launched such services across 300 cities earlier this month and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm plans to do so in December. Idea Cellular has already said it will launch 4G services in the next calendar year.
On Friday, Vodafone India said it will launch 4G services by the end of calendar year 2015 in important data markets, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Kochi. “In addition, Vodafone India will also roll out its 3G networks in seven circles – Assam, North East, UP West, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala and Odisha, to expand its overall 3G footprint to 16 circles across the country,” a company statement said.
It said the company had acquired additional 4G (LTE) spectrum in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Kerala and Karnataka circles in the February 2014 auctions, and they together contribute close to 50% of total data revenue for it.
With big operators getting into the 4G space, which enables surfing the web on mobile phones, tablets and laptops much faster than 3G services, consumers can once again expect to get the best in terms of tariff, data packages, movies and song downloads coupled with snazzy devices, as the operators jostle for a share of their wallet.
Just for a sneak preview of what the consumers could get to savour as competition intensifies: Bharti Airtel, which rolled out its services on August 6, has a tariff plan – Infinity Plans – where at Rs 999 the company is offering unlimited local voice calls on Airtel-to-Airtel network along with 3GB data benefits and access to Wynk Movies and Wynk Music. This gets scaled up to Rs 1,999, wherein 7GB of data comes with unlimited local, STD calls, and free roaming services coupled with unlimited Wynk songs and movies.
Reliance Jio’s technology head Jyotindra Thacker recently told the Express Group that the company would unleash bandwidth and devices will be at affordable prices, coupled with a bouquet of apps. “My feeling is that you will see a plethora of devices. You will see Mi-Fi devices coming with efficient long life batteries. You will see dongles for sure. Mi-Fi cards, tablets. You will have Wi-Fi tablets,” he said.
Analysts reckon that with the number of mobile internet users in the country set to grow by around 28% annually between 2013 and 2017, and reach 314 million by the end of 2017, according to an Internet and Mobile Association of India and KPMG report, data would be the next battle front among mobile operators.
During April-June, data as a percentage of mobile revenue for Bharti, for instance, shot up to 19.2% compared to 17.6% in the preceding quarter. While voice Arpu remained flat at Rs 198, data Arpu increased by 3% on a sequential basis to Rs 181.
The regulatory framework to provide high speed 4G data services has also undergone a change. From 2010, when spectrum in 2300 Mhz, which was won by operators like Jio and Bharti and could only provide services, today with liberalised spectrum, services can be provided across spectrum bands of 800, 900, 1800 and 2100 Mhz by all operators.
“Testing of 4G services has commenced successfully. Vodafone India has partnered with leading global technology infrastructure service providers for the network roll-out. With some of the latest technological developments on the anvil; Vodafone is building a robust and resilient network architecture with a strong backhaul to support the volumes and need for speed from customers,” the company said.
Globally, Vodafone has launched 4G in 18 countries. “There are over 20 million 4G customers across the Group and our 4G propositions are enhanced with a mixture of music, sport and TV content to increase adoption and usage,” it added. “Given the expertise and experience of launching in so many global markets, Vodafone understands the needs of the 4G customer and is well positioned to launch 4G pan India at an appropriate time,” the company said.