AIRTELTo counter the tremendous threat posed by Reliance Jio, the biggest telecom company in India Bharti Airtel has launched a massive network transformation program called Project Leap.

“Aimed at perceptibly improving network quality and delivering the best customer experience, this strategic project will see an investment of Rs. 60,000 crore in the next 3 years,” it said.

Reliance Jio is expected to invest around Rs 100,000 crore by the time it launches its high-speed service over the next few days.

Reliance Jio will start operations with around 70,000 4G base stations, which will give it more wireless data carrying capacity than any other company in India including Bharti Airtel.

Bharti Airtel said the investment of Rs 60,000 crores is over and above the Rs. 1,60,000 crores Airtel has already invested in its active and passive network, spectrum, fiber, submarine cables and systems till date.

The comprehensive ten point program under “Project Leap” will enable Airtel to take a decisive lead in delivering a differentiated customer experience, it said.

The following are components of Project Leap.

Firstly, Airtel will deploy over 70,000 base stations in FY 15-16 making it the largest deployment in a single year since its inception. It should be noted that Idea is also deploying over 10,000 base stations per quarter (or 40,000 per year).

This could mean that Bharti and possibly even Idea, could catch up or even surpass Jio’s wireless data carrying capacity by mid next year.

Jio has a target of reaching 300,000 cell sites, but it is not known how fast it will expand through 2016 given that a lot of management attention will go to the customer acquisition and marketing side.

Airtel has close to 200,000 base stations at present, but only a third of them are high-speed data enabled.

Airtel said that by March 2016, over 60 percent of its network will be mobile broadband enabled, the company said.

“In three years, Airtel will deploy over 160,000 base stations, effectively doubling its presence from what it has today on the ground,” it said.

Secondly, Airtel will expand its mobile broadband coverage to all towns and over 250,000 villages by March 2016. In three years Airtel plans to offer mobile broadband to over 500,000 villages in the country.

It will also augment indoor penetration – an area of pain right now.

Airtel will deploy a range of solutions including small cells, carrier aggregation solutions, wi-fi and the use of multiple technologies across different spectrum bands. This will enable the company to provide state of the art coverage on both voice and data services inside buildings across cities, it said.

Over a period of three years, Airtel plans to deploy over 1, 00,000 solutions through a combination of wi-fi hotspots, small cells and indoor solutions.

Fourthly, it will strengthen its core network.

“A powerful future ready internet backbone to serve the growing demand of data services in India. Airtel will cumulatively deploy more than 550,000 Kms of domestic & international fiber in order to drive down latency, improve customer experience and serve the growing demand of data services for years to come.”

Airtel will swap its legacy networks and base stations over a three year period and replace them with smaller, more compact and efficient technologies that will significantly improve customer experience. All these modern base stations will use a single radio access network to manage multiple spectrum bands.

One of the key strengths of Reliance Jio has been a lack of legacy technology. Companies like BSNL and Airtel still use equipment that belong to the second generation, while Jio uses equipment belonging to the fourth generation of wireless communication technologies.

The incumbent will also pay more attention to its copper and fiber network.

Airtel will modernize its over 3 million strong home broadband network by upgrading its Copper assets through new age Vectoring Technology. This technology will enable Airtel to offer 50 Mbps speeds from its current 16 Mbps by 2016. In addition Airtel plans to deploy Fiber to the home and offer upto 100 Mbps speeds.

With increasing spectrum costs, many companies are rethinking their decision to not focus on wired technology, especially in areas where houses are close together.

“Airtel will use its extensive domestic infrastructure to deploy a range of solutions that include fiber to the building as well as Internet Wireless Access Network (IWAN). As part of this program, Airtel plans to provide seamless connectivity to the millions of small and medium enterprises,” it said.

The company will also use new technology such as self optimising networks, geo spatial network tools for targeted network planning, capacity enhancements, customer experience management as well as software defined networks.

Last, but not the least, Airtel will try to reduce its carbon emissions over the next three years.

It said it will deploy modern and lesser power consuming radio technologies that include compact base stations and small cells and leverage multiple band antennas and deploy new battery technologies that will significantly lower energy consumption and reduce diesel dependency.

“As a result of these initiatives Airtel will reduce its carbon footprint by upto 70% on a per unit basis in the next 3 years,” it said.

A few months ago, Airtel launched a program to take the help of its customers to build and improve its network by getting access to new sites. Under “Project Leap”, this program will be taken to the next level with the launch of an information portal that will enable customers to understand and monitor the progress of ‘Leap’ in their locality on a near real time basis, it added.
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