Bharti Airtel is looking to roll out 5G services immediately and hopes to have a pan-India coverage by 2024, Gopal Vittal, the telco’s MD and CEO, said on Tuesday.
“We intend to launch 5G starting immediately and extending to pan-India rollout very soon. By March 2024, we believe we will be able to cover every single town of 5,000-odd towns and key rural areas with 5G. In fact, detailed rollout plans for 5,000 towns is completely in place. This will be one of the biggest rollouts in our history,” Vittal told analysts over a virtual call a day after its earnings announcement.
While the company’s three-year capex will remain around the same levels, he said the rapid rollout will see some advancing of capex. The capex for Airtel for the next three years is anticipated at Rs 75,000 crore. “There will be some advancement of capex this year and that will normalise in 18 months. Bulk of the rollouts is done, which means that capex that goes into radio on 4G will get displaced by 5G and which is why I say over a three-year period, our capex profile will fundamentally remain the same,” he said. Every network domain of Airtel is 5G-ready, Vittal added.
Airtel has acquired 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum across every circle in the country. Vittal said 3.5 GHz will give it a pan-India footprint that can bring in true 5G experience to its customers. In addition, Airtel has acquired 800 MHz of 26 GHz spectrum across every circle in the country. The company’s total commitment in the recent auctions was Rs 43,040 crore.
Vittal highlighted that 8-9% of devices in India are currently 5G-ready and another 30-35% getting shipped are also 5G-ready. “We expect this will change a lot, and 80-90% devices will be 5G-ready. As a result, that 8-9% if we project forward to March 2023, will be 13-14% and then by March 2024, it will be much higher,” he said.
Vittal said that though pricing is not yet decided, globally 5G by itself is not giving incremental Arpu (average revenue per user) to any operator. “In India, tariffs are still low and we expect them to increase. With every tariff hike, economics will change and return on capital will get much better,” he said.
While at Rs 183 the telecom operator continues to lead the industry, Vittal said the company will see the Arpu of Rs 200 and eventually 300 arising out of tariff rises.