Mumbai was the first off the block, where it launched ‘premium 3G’ services a year ago.
It is currently in the process of carving out 3G blocks from its 900 MHz spectrum in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This is done by shifting 2G users to a combination of 900 MHz and 1800 MHz network.
In two circles — Punjab and Assam — Bharti already has enough 5 MHz of free 900 band spectrum to launch 3G services, it said.
Unlike traditional 3G services, those on 900 MHz will be easy to receive even inside homes. The company said it has got really good voice and data experience from its 900 MHz spectrum.
Airtel is an early mover in trying to refarm 2G spectrum into 3G spectrum, but not the only one.
Idea Cellular is also swapping its 2G-only equipment in this band and replacing them with 2G+3G combo base stations with an aim to explore the possibility of sending 3G signals on this spectrum. Idea is the biggest holder of 3G-suitable 900 MHz spectrum in India.
The moves are expected to help the companies compete better with Reliance Jio, which is delivering 4G services on the 850 MHz band.
700 MHz AUCTION
Bharti also said it felt the reserve price for 700 MHz spectrum is too high. “It’s unaffordable for us,” officials said, discussing its quarterly results.
The government likely sees howls about the pricing as a bargaining tactic. Traditionally, Indian spectrum auctions have had very high base prices — almost at the same level as the value of the spectrum — to prevent telecom operators from ‘fixing’ the auction. The upcoming auction too is likely to follow the same path, as operators have almost always bid in spite of such protests.