Reliance Jio has started testing its network in Kerala in cities like Thrissur, according to industry sources, and is only days away from completing its infrastructure work in most places in the state.
An employee of the company was able to demonstrate decent 4G speeds using a phone made by LG Electronics.
The operator will give more handsets to employees to conduct field tests. Some of the handsets may also be passed on to non-employees for more extensive testing.
Each of these phones will have a ‘test quota’ of 150 GB, which can be used free of cost.
While the network is ready for testing in bigger towns and cities, in some of the smaller towns, Jio is in the final stages of connecting the towers to the main fiber optic network.
Reliance Jio Kerala operates its network under the code 405-862, which now covers most the towns and villages in the state.
According to industry sources, the company will be in position to launch its 4G services in Kerala by December 25, the birthday of late Dhirubhai Ambani.
Many media reports have indicated that the company will delay the launch of its 4G services to the next financial year, i.e., to April or later.
Jio is one of the six 4G operators who are working on rolling out in Kerala.
Bharti Airtel has already rolled out in around half a dozen cities in the state, while Vodafone and Idea are both in the process of erecting networks.
Vodafone is expected to roll-out in December or January, while Idea is expected to follow soon after.
Reliance Communications will be the only 800 MHz LTE operator in the state, and is seen launching services by mid-2016.
Launching last will be the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, which is expected to use 2500 MHz band to roll-out its network.
FITCH ON CONSOLIDATION
Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings said it expects big operators to buy out smaller operators in India as and when 4G services gain traction.
“Larger operators are likely to seek acquisitions as they require more spectrum to support their fast-growing 3G/4G service revenues; while smaller, loss-making telcos will be willing sellers due to rising competition and the regulator’s decision to relax spectrum rules,” it said.
“Smaller telcos, potentially including Tata Telecom, Videocon Telecom and Aircel, are likely to feel the impact first, and may look to exit as they make losses and lack key spectrum assets or the deep pockets needed to invest in networks.”
It said Reliance Jio is likely to launch its 4G-enabled data services sometime in the first three months of next year.
“We expect Jio’s entry to lead to a decline in average data tariffs by at least 20%. Jio may also offer voice-over-LTE, as compatible and affordable 4G handsets are now freely available.”
VoLTE services will offer much better voice clarity than is currently possible on cellular services in India.
Smaller telcos are losing voice market share to larger operators, and competition in the data segment will intensify on Jio’s entry, Fitch said.
It said there was space for only five or six profit-making telcos in India in the long term.
The top three telcos – market leader Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular – will gradually increase revenue market share from the current 73%, it said.
“We expect Rcom to expand on its existing infrastructure-sharing arrangement with Reliance Jio. Rcom and Jio already have a reciprocal infrastructure agreement to share Rcom’s 43,000 towers, 120,000km of inter-city fibre, and 70,000km intra-city fibre network over the next 17-20 years.”