Vodafone Idea to divert 70% of spectrum to 4G

Idea Vodafone Spectrum

Idea Cellular CEO Himanshu Kapania said his company has placed the order for radio equipment that will increase the company’s 4G capacity significantly in eight crucial circles as part of a massive network upgrade process for Vodafone Idea.

“We have placed the order for TDD in both 2300 and 2500 MHz in eight circles… A large part of it will be completed in the second (current) quarter,” Kapania said.

TDD CAPACITY BOOST

LTE networks can be designed to delineate ‘up’ and ‘down’ traffic in two ways — by separating them into two chunks of frequencies, or by switching between them in time.

The first method is called FDD or Frequency Division Duplex and the second is called TDD or Time Division Duplex.

TDD works well when the spectrum block is at least 20 MHz wide, while FDD works better when the spectrum block is 10 MHz or less.

TDD is known as ‘capacity spectrum’ as it is more responsive to traffic asymmetry. The amount of spectrum dedicated to downloads and uploads is not fixed, but varies according to demand.

For example, when there is a lot of traffic generated by video-on-demand applications, more spectrum can be allocated to downstream traffic.

However, Idea Cellular and Vodafone had not deployed their TDD spectrum, and were waiting for the merger to be complete before doing so. In contrast, both Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel use their TDD spectrum extensively, especially in congestion-prone areas, giving their networks higher capacities.

The lower capacity of FDD networks has so far prevented Vodafone and Idea from being able to match the tariffs of Jio and Airtel to the full extent.

GEOGRAPHIC EXPANSION

The second method to increase capacity will be via expanding the geographic reach of the 4G network.

After the merger, Kapania said, a lot of 4G cellsites will become superfluous, as both Idea and Vodafone will have their towers in the same area.

In such cases, one set of equipment will be taken down, and installed in an area where neither of the players have 4G at present.

This, he said, will help Vodafone Idea to increase its 4G coverage by redeploying the large number of sites without having to buy new equipment.

Kapania said about 30% of Idea users with 4G-suitable handsets are currently in areas where the company doesn’t have a 4G network, and a rapid increase in the geographical extent will help the company convert these customers into data users.

The merger, which was approved by the Department of Telecom last week, will create the second largest mobile company in the world in terms of subscribers, with nearly 41 cr (410 mln) users.

More significantly, the new entity will  have 123 mln mobile data users, which is about 30% more than that of Bharti Airtel.

However, at about 200 mln, Reliance Jio will continue to have the highest number of mobile data users even after the Idea Vodafone merger.

SPECTRUM REFARMING

The third area of capacity expansion will be via spectrum refarming — or the diversion of spectrum from one technology to another.

At present, only about 55% of the total spectrum held by Vodafone and Idea have been earmarked for 4G usage, while the actual spectrum being used by these companies to deliver 4G is estimated at around 35% of their total holding.

After the merger, said Kapania,  more than 70% of the spectrum will be used for delivering 4G services. This will be achieved by diverting some of the spectrum being used for 2G/3G services to 4G.

Kapania confirmed that one of the blocks used for 4G will be 900 MHz, which has excellent propagation characteristics and in-building penetration, for 4G services as well.

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