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All 5G handsets to support Airtel’s 5G network by mid-December, says CEO Gopal Vittal

Currently, the non-standalone architecture using which the 5G network is deployed on the existing 4G layer, has a widely accepted ecosystem, compared with the standalone network.

All 5G handsets to support Airtel’s 5G network by mid-December, says CEO Gopal Vittal
Bharti Airtel also sees a strong potential in rural areas and aims to extend its coverage to bridge its gap with competitor Reliance Jio. (IE)

Bharti Airtel on Tuesday said all the 5G-enabled smartphones will support its non-standalone 5G network by mid-December, giving it an advantage over competition which is using the alternative mode of rolling out 5G network.

“All of Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, and Realme devices are ready for our network. Samsung and One Plus will be fully ready in the next couple of weeks, and Apple by mid-November or early December,” said Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, Bharti Airtel, at the earnings call with analysts. “This can not be said with alternative technologies, where many devices will deliver either an inferior experience or simply not work on 5G,” Vittal said, hinting at Jio’s 5G deployment using standalone network.

Also read: Xiaomi says it sold whopping 3.5 lakh Redmi Note 12 phones in first sale

Airtel, the second largest telecom operator, was the first to launch 5G services in parts of eight cities last month. Counting the advantages of Airtel’s 5G network, Vittal said, “With our anchor band (3.5 GHz spectrum band) riding on the underlying 4G layer, our 5G band covers an additional 100 meters providing a compellingly superior experience.”

Currently, the non-standalone architecture using which the 5G network is deployed on the existing 4G layer, has a widely accepted ecosystem, compared with the standalone network. However, owing to evolved use cases of 5G, going forward the telecom operators will have to shift to standalone network architecture, experts said.

“We have also started testing SA (standalone) mode of 5G. This mode may be relevant for some enterprise use cases,” Vittal said, adding that these specific solutions are very niche at the moment.

Bharti Airtel targets to cover all towns in urban area and key rural areas with 5G by March 2024 and expects a significant part of its customers to move to Airtel 5G network over a period of time.

When asked about tariffs for 5G, Vittal said the company right now is building the 5G network and the decision on the pricing would be taken in 6-9 months. Currently, the operator is offering 5G services at the 4G plans.

Also read: Realme 9i, Redmi 11 Prime, iQOO Z6 Lite best 5G phones under Rs 15,000 | Buyer’s Guide November 2022

Vittal also reiterated the stance on the need for next round of tariff hikes and hopes that the tariff correction happens ‘sooner up than later’. “The return on capital needs to go up and the only way it can go up if there is a tariff correction. We are not talking about massive corrections, we are already at Rs 190 Arpu and we need to see one round of correction,” Vittal said, adding that he is not sure of the timeline.

“If the competition does not follow (for tariff hikes), we will have a problem,” he told analysts.

At a time when the telecom industry is largely becoming a two-player game owing to financial constraints of Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel sees a serious short term opportunity to grow its market share banking on the quality consumers and the 5G opportunity.

“Given the financial impressed situation that one of the players in the industry is going through, we feel that the moment is right for Airtel, pulling ahead and being decisively the most aspirational brand in India,” Vittal said.

Bharti Airtel also sees a strong potential in rural areas and aims to extend its coverage to bridge its gap with competitor Reliance Jio. “We are now seeing over 40% of industry 4G net adds coming from rural area and believe that the time is right to bridge to substantial part of the coverage gap in mobile against the leading player in the industry,” Vittal said.

The company is also testing the 26 GHz band to offer fixed wireless access, which will help it offer broadband connectivity without optical fiber cable especially in the rural areas.

In the September quarter, Bharti Airtel’s mobile subscriber grew marginally to 327.8 million, largely aided by growth in 4G subscribers and average revenue per user (ARPU) rose 3.8% sequentially to Rs 190. “We have seen pressure on semiconductor prices over the last six to eight months…which has pushed up the price of smartphones. Across the industry, there has been a 30% reduction in feature phone to smartphone upgrades and this take some more time for the (inflationary) shock to settle in,” Vittal said.

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First published on: 02-11-2022 at 03:00 IST