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No plans to launch JioPhone rival – Bharti Airtel

Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecom provider by revenue, said it has no intention of launching a rival phone similar to the super-cheap semi-smartphone launched by rival Reliance Jio.

Asked if the company needed to come out with a similar, affordable handset to compete with Jio, Gopal Vittal, CEO of Bharti Airtel said his company did not believe in the bundling model.

“We believe that the device market must be treated as an open ecosystem,” Vittal said. “We have stayed away from subsidizing, managing device inventories and treating the device like our own, and we have no intention of getting into it,” he said.

He, however, said that Airtel will compete without going into subsidies.

Bharti Airtel will try to compete by exploring tie-ups with handset manufacturers, he said. The company, he pointed out, is already giving offers tailored to handsets.

On JioPhone, priced at Rs 1,500, Vittal said the device will help consolidate the market as people will focus on one SIM. The device, which supports some applications from the new operator, has only one SIM slot unlike most phones in India.

“This will lead to a new segment that is likely open up,” the CEO said.

On Friday, the new operator from Reliance Industries group unveiled a scheme under which offered a 4G-enabled featurephone at a refundable.

The phone supports both 4G and 2G technologies.

Jio is also offering unlimited data and voice calls for Rs 153 per month. The phone will be available for booking starting Aug 24, and sales will start in September. Five million Jiophones will be sold every week.

NO PLANS TO SHUT 2G

Vittal also said he has no plans to shut Airtel’s 2G network or stop supporting regular, 2G smartphones.

He pointed out that 60-65% of featurephones are sold at below Rs 1000 and this is not the same market that JioPhone will target.

“About 35 million featurephones are shipped every quarter,” he said.

He also pointed out that it may be easier to shut down 3G networks ahead of 2G networks.

“4G is spectrally more efficient and carries more data.. At some point, 3G will be shut down and moved to 4G,” he said.

Bharti Airtel has an average of 10 MHz of spectrum being used for 3G network across India, while it has about 40 MHz currently being used for delivering 4G services.

The CEO said that when required, the current 3G base stations can be updated to support 4G using just software, without having to replace or retrofit the equipment.

However, he said, there are no plans to migrate any network from 3G to 4G in any of the circles, he said.

“There is currently a lot of spare capacity in our 4G network,” he said, adding that the company continues to add more every day.

Almost all our investments are going for 4G and fiber,” he said.

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