Airtel 4G to launch in Bangalore in 30 days, TD-LTE tariffs on higher side

Bharti Airtel, which launched India’s first LTE-based 4G network in Kolkata today, said it will soon launch similar networks in Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra.

It will launch such ultra-highspeed 4G services in Bangalore in the next 30 days.

Airtel’s launch prices for the 4G services, however, are on the higher side.

While most operators are currently offering 6 GB of high-speed 3G data (3.6 Mbps) at Rs 850 per month, Airtel is offering 6 GB of high-speed data at Rs 999, pricing it at about 20% more than others.

While others are offering 10 GB for around Rs 1,250 per month, Airtel is offering 9 GB of high-speed data for around Rs 1,400 per month. It will also offer 18 GB of 4G data for nearly Rs 2,000 per month.

The tariffs are higher than expected.

However, they are expected to dip rapidly, as was seen in case of 3G, in the next six months as more players also launch similar services. 3G data prices halved in the first six months, as operators tried to win new customers.

“The current high price of 4G services from Bharti is to ensure coexistence of 3G and 4G together and monetization of 3G. Moreover, 3G also benefits from a developed ecosystem in comparison to LTE where the ecosystem is in a really nascent state,” pointed out Abhishek Chauhan, Senior Consultant, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan.

Subscribers will also have to pay a price of Rs 7,750 if they want to use a normal 4G LTE modem (with Wifi), or a price of Rs 7,999 if they want to buy a USB-based 4G data-card (dongle) from Airtel 4G.

“The dongle price is nearly 8 times of an EVDO dongle and 3 times of a 3G dongle. With increase of competition, this should be taken care of,” Chauhan pointed out.

Another area of mild disappointment is the promised maximum speed for Airtel’s 4G TD-LTE. While most observers were expecting speeds of around 100 Mbps, Airtel said the maximum download speed will be about 40 Mbps. It is not clear what the per-user speed cap is. Nokia Siemens, which is setting up a 4G LTE network for Airtel in Maharashtra, had said its own would support up to 100 Mbps of speed.

With today’s launch, India’s largest mobile operator has beaten Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Infotel to become the first company to commercialize the wireless broadband spectrum given out by the Government two years ago.

However, Airtel is learnt to be concerned about the fact that the company has spectrum only in about a quarter of India’s markets and will not be able to compete nationally with the Infotel, which has spectrum across the country.

Big telecom operators like Airtel and Vodafone did not bid very aggressively for pan-India spectrum in the wireless auction, assuming that no company will have a national footprint of broadband spectrum.

However, it later emerged that Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries was also targeting the market.

Bharti is now learnt to be requesting the government to hold one more round of broadband wireless spectrum auction later this year. Mobile operators’ association, the COAI, too had lent support to Bharti’s demand for a quick auction of wireless broadband spectrum.

That said, Bharti said it is now working on launching similar networks in the other states where it won spectrum in 2010. It has already given the contract for a TD-LTE deployment in Maharashtra to Nokia Siemens Networks. The identity of vendors for its other networks are not known.

Other operators who have won broadband wireless spectrum include Reliance Communications and Vodafone India. None of the others have revealed any timeline for plans to launch such services.