Vodafone Idea, India’s No.1 telecom operator by subscribers and revenue, said it will increase its 4G network capacity by 50% in four months, largely by redeploying existing 4G equipment to avoid duplication.
The move would also increase the coverage of Vodafone Idea’s 4G signals by about 30% compared to the present.
“We are looking at a 50% capacity boost in the next four months,” Vishant Vora, Chief Technology Officer for Vodafone Idea told investors in the company’s maiden analyst meet in Mumbai yesterday.
The company currently has around 1.78 lakh 4G cell sites, compared to an estimated 1.5 lakh for Bharti Airtel and 5.76 lakh for Reliance Jio.
However, despite having more 4G sites, the total data carried by Vodafone Idea is only around 25 million GB per day, less than the 29 million GB carried by Bharti Airtel every day. Reliance Jio carries 80 million GB per day.
This is because of a comparative slowdown seen in Vodafone Idea’s data sales in the last nine months on account of integration-related issues, as well as aggressive promotions by Bharti Airtel.
For example, nine months ago, Bharti Airtel was carrying 12 million GB of data per day and Vodafone and Idea were carrying 14 million GB.
However, since then, Bharti Airtel stole a clear lead by focusing on signing up more and more 4G users, while Vodafone and Idea managements were distracted by the merger.
With the merger behind it, Vodafone Idea is now looking to regain the No.2 spot by reconfiguring its network.
It will move 4G equipment from areas where both Vodafone and Idea have separate presence, to areas where neither are present.
In areas where more capacity is required, it will reduce the cell size and increase cell numbers, thus increasing the carrying capacity of the network.
50% IN 6 MONTHS
By March, Vodafone Idea is targeting to increase its data carrying capacity by 50%. In the 12 months following that, it will increase its data carrying capacity by another 67%.
In high-traffic areas, it aims to increase increase its 4G data carrying capacity to three times over the next 18 months.
It will be achieved through three steps.
The first step towards the augmentation of the network capacity will be the ‘reconstruction’ of the Idea Vodafone network into a single unit.
This is expected to cost around Rs 1,800 cr.
Just rearranging the cell sites alone is expected to increase 4G capacity by 30% and improve 4G coverage by 70%.
The second component of the network strategy is addition of fresh spectrum.
Idea and Vodafone have extensive spectrum in the 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz band which are ideally suited for carrying large amounts of data.
Much of this spectrum is currently lying unused, and will be deployed in coming months.
Besides this, the company will divert a large chunk of its 3G spectrum (2100 MHz), and a substantial part of its 2G spectrum to 4G as well. The de-commissioning of 3G spectrum will start within the next 6-9 months, Vora added.
Finally, it will deploy special antennas — known as Massive MIMO technology — that will increase capacity by three to five times, Vora told analysts.