Ahead of Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel aims to be 4G whiz

By: | Published: August 7, 2015 1:33 AM

Bharti Airtel rolls out pan-India 4G service, offerings in a bid to stymie rival

Bharti Airtel 4GGopal Vittal, MD & CEO, Bharti Airtel announcing the commercial launch of Airtel 4G services, in Gurgaon on Thursday. PTI

It was among the first to bid for and win a mobile operator licence, and also among the first to have a pan-India presence. Now Bharti Airtel aims to maintain the first-mover advantage by offering fourth-generation or 4G services across the country.

Almost four years after the roll-out of 3G services, the country’s largest telecom operator on Thursday announced it was extending 4G coverage to almost 300 towns.

The launch, which comes ahead of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio’s planned entry into the segment in December, would likely see consumers once again getting the best in terms of tariffs, data packages, movie and song downloads coupled with affordable and snazzy devices, with all major operators jostling for a share of their wallet.

That a tariff war is imminent as more and more operators jump on the 4G bandwagon is clear as Airtel has offered its consumers a free upgrade to 4G services, which means no extra charges.

Moreover, the company, which already has a carrier-agnostic music app, on Thursday launched a similar app for movies called Wynk Movies, which seems aimed at pre-empting Jio’s plan of launching a bouquet of such offerings.

“Airtel customers can enjoy 4G at 3G data prices with packs starting at Rs 25. In addition, with every 4G SIM swap, Airtel is offering six months of unlimited music streaming and downloads on ‘Wynk Music’ and five free movies per month for six months on the Eros Now channel of ‘Wynk Movies’”, the company said in a statement.

What sounds like a steal for consumers is a subscription — Infinity Plans — being offered that at Rs 999 offers unlimited local Airtel-to-Airtel voice calls along with 3GB data benefits and access to Wynk Movies and Wynk Music.

This gets scaled up to Rs 1,999 under which 7GB of data comes with unlimited locals, STD calls and free roaming services, along with unlimited Wynk songs and movies. While the former plan would suit the low Arpu or average revenue per user customers, the latter fits the needs of high Arpu ones.

Other consumer-friendly measures offered by Airtel include SIM swap in minutes (one requires a different SIM card for 4G services) and home delivery of SIMs and postpaid connections in four hours. The company has also launched what’s called Flexpage, which is an automated platform that allows customers to track their data usage and get real-time usage alerts. With it, customers can also upgrade their mobile plan on the go, as and when they exhaust their monthly data quota.

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The company has partnered with Flipkart which would offer numerous 4G devices bundled and delivered with Airtel 4G SIMs, and customers can choose handset from the likes of Samsung, Xiaomi, Motorola, Lenovo, Asus and Huawei. And under an alliance with Samsung, personnel at the latter’s stores will educate customers on using Airtel 4G, Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO, Bharti Airtel (India & South Asia), said, “At Airtel, the customer is at the heart of everything we do and, therefore, we first opened our 4G network to some of them for their valuable feedback. With the help of the feedback received from the beta launches, we have now built India’s first commercial 4G network that will make high-speed mobile broadband a reality. The national roll-out today is another small step in our journey to be the most innovative and customer-focused brand.”

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 a Internet and Mobile Association of India and KPMG report, data would be the next battle front among mobile operators.

During the April-June quarter, data as a percentage of mobile revenues for Bharti shot up to 19.2% compared with 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 only in the 2300 MHz band, which was won by operators like RJio and Bharti, could provide these services, today with liberalised spectrum the services can be provided across spectrum bands of 800, 900, 1800 and 2100 MHz by all operators.

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