Reliance Jio overtakes BSNL, Aircel, RCom in cell sites; Idea closes in on Vodafone

4GReliance Jio, which is yet to sign up a single paying customer, has already overtaken most of the telecom operators in India as far as tower numbers are concerned.

As of last month, the upcoming operator had already erected around 1.2 lakh towers in India. This means that by now, Jio — which is still putting up new towers every day — would have easily crossed Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd’s tally of 1.20 lakh towers to claim the position of No 4 in India in terms of cell sites.

This is a stronger-than-expected performance from the Mukesh Ambani company. It was widely expected that Jio will start operations with around 70,000-80,000 towers.

The fact that it has not started operations despite crossing the 1.2 lakh mark indicates how serious the company is in trying to ensure seamless and saturated coverage on day 1.

The company is expected to start commercial sales on April 1. There are also reports that it will make an announcement in this regard on the 24th, the day of Holi.

Whatever be the schedule of launch, the fact is that already Jio has nearly twice the number of cell sites compared to Reliance Communications — run by Mukesh Ambani’s brother Anil Ambani — and Aircel Cellular, owned by Maxis of Malaysia. Both of these companies have around 67,000 base stations in India.

Now that BSNL is in Jio’s rear-view mirror, there are only three telecom companies in India that have a bigger network than Jio at present — Idea Cellular, Vodafone and Bharti Airtel.

While Idea Cellular was always seen as a clear third in terms of its size, but the company is also fast catching up on Vodafone and is likely to overtake the Britain-based company in terms of base station numbers later this year due to its 4G roll out. At present, Idea has reached around 1.77 lakh towers compared to 1.79 lakh for Vodafone.

Idea Cellular has seen the most aggressive roll out of any 4G network in India, adding nearly a hundred towers a day. In fact, in a recent conference call, the company congratulated its networks team for surpassing its own expectations as far as 4G roll out is concerned.

As an example, Idea announced its first 4G network in Kerala in December, four months after Bharti Airtel. However, according to on-the-ground tests, the Aditya Birla Group company has already rolled out in more towns in the state compared to Airtel.

Vodafone too is expanding, especially in 3G as it has 4G spectrum only in five circles out of 22. The company is expected to fill out its portfolio at the upcoming spectrum auction.