The expansion comprises four areas — increasing the number of cell sites by about 30%, increasing the 4G spectrum by about 25%, expanding fiber capacity by about 18% and finally, deploying a key component of 5G architecture to further multiply capacity.
The first part will see the addition of 7,000 cell sites, taking the total to 27,000 by March next year.
The expansion would translate to the addition of one new mobile site in Mumbai every hour throughout the year, and is more than double the 3,300 sites added in the year ended March 2018.
The second component will see Bharti Airtel add 10 MHz to its 4G spectrum. At present, it is using about 40 MHz.
Third, the company will increase the fiber capacity by 400 km to 2,700 km.
Last but not the least, it will deploy a technology called ‘massive MIMO’ or massive ‘multi-in, multi-out’ antenna system.
Typically, a cell tower radiates in three directions using three sector antennas. To avoid interference, each sector antenna can use only a fraction of the total spectrum to transmit data.
In Massive MIMO, this architecture is replaced with one where a cell tower will have dozens of smaller antennas with tightly focused beams, preventing interference and allowing for more re-use of spectrum. The technology could increase the carrying capacity of a network by 5 to 7 times without adding more spectrum or towers.
Airtel had recently deployed the solution at Wankhede Stadium in the IPL.
Unlike other 5G technologies, Massive MIMO does not require customers to change their handsets in any way and is a purely network-based improvement.
“The pre-5G Massive MIMO technology will be deployed across all major business hubs and residential locations in the city.. and delivers superfast data speeds despite large number of concurrent users at the same location,” Airtel said.
The company is augmenting its network to ensure that it has enough capacity to match the prices and plans offered by chief rival Reliance Jio.
At present, Bharti Airtel offers about 20%-25% less data at different price points when compared against Reliance Jio.