With new operator Reliance Jio snapping at its heels, incumbent Bharti Airtel has decided to slash its data prices for everyone with the introduction of new 4G dongle plans, Telecom Talk blog reported quoting unnamed sources.

At present, Bharti Airtel does not offer any plan that comes close to what new entrant Reliance Jio has on its cards.

However, the company does provide cheaper plans to selected customers depending on various factors such as the location of the user, the kind of handset that the subscriber has, whether or not there has been a sudden decline in data usage by the subscriber and so on. It is also providing such cheap 4G plans to new customers.

Despite all this, the company has not extended cheap 4G plans to all its customers due to concerns over its network capacity.

Compared to Jio, which has about 60% of its base stations connected by fiber cables, incumbent operators like Bharti Airtel are estimated to have only 20% or so of their base stations connected via fiber. Other towers are connected using wireless microwave backhaul systems, which cannot support the 500 Mbps of data that a single LTE base station can consume.

As such, Airtel is moving gingerly in extending its cheaper plans. When making ‘targeted offers’, the company can see whether a subscriber spends much of his or her time in a fiberized area or in a microwave-supported area and according to tailor its plan.

FIRST STEP

However, according to the latest report by the telecom blog, Airtel seems to be taking another step towards throwing open its cheaper plans to the public.

The upcoming, new 4G dongle plans will provide 5 GB of upfront data and 1 GB per day for a month at Rs 499.

Though this is far superior to Airtel’s existing offers, it is nevertheless less than what Jio provides. The new entrant offers 2 GB per day and unlimited calls for Rs 499.

Despite this, the move suggests that the incumbent is starting to feel confident in its network to make such offers.

It is believed that once the dongle users are accommodated successfully, such offers will be extended to mobile users as well.

In addition to the 599 plan, the company will also offer a 699 plan that gives 2 GB per day along with 8 GB upfront. Similarly, for Rs 899, Airtel will offer 3 GB per day plus 12 GB upfront.

NETWORK STRENGTHENING

To measure up to the challenge posed by increasing consumption, Bharti Airtel is frantically putting up 4G towers across India.

It is estimated that it has around 80,000-90,000 4G towers at present, or about half of what Jio has.

It is learnt to be increasing this number by about 5,000 per month.

However, its biggest challenge is in connecting these towers by fiber. To achieve this, it is adding about 2,000 km of optic fiber per month.

SHARING DEAL

Besides putting up its own 4G towers and extending its fiber network, Bharti Airtel is also learnt to be in advanced talks with Idea Cellular and Vodafone India for sharing its cellular networks as well as fiber links.

While the companies are almost certainly going to ink an agreement to share their 2G network and fiber links, it is not clear whether they will share their 4G networks as well, especially given that Idea and Vodafone are slated to merge and could pose a big threat to Bharti Airtel in the future.

A sharing deal for 4G would immediately make Bharti Airtel’s LTE network almost equal to that of Jio’s in terms of number of towers and radio capacity. It is estimated that Vodafone and Idea have around 40,000 4G towers each, taking the total between all three operators to around 1.7 lakh.

However, Idea Cellular CEO Himanshu Kapania said recently that negotiations for the sharing agreement are progressing slowly, but steadily due to the complicated nature of such deal.

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