Idea Cellular, the telecom arm of the Aditya Birla Group, is in the process of adding 35,000 3G and 4G towers in the ongoing financial year, when total industry capacity for high-speed wireless data is set to triple.
As of March this year, Idea had about 64,700 3G and 4G cell sites, out of which 50,000 were 3G sites and the remaining 4G LTE.
In the current year, it plans to take the total number of 3G and 4G towers to 1 lakh, the company said.
Idea has already launched 4G services in 10 out of the 22 circles.
It did not disclose how many of the incremental 35,000 towers will be on 4G and how many will be on 3G.
However, given that the company has not bought new 3G spectrum in recent times, chances are that at least 25,000 of the new cell sites will use the newer technology.
The mobile operator also said that it is more focused on bringing more areas under the high-speed network rather than adding more cell sites in areas that already have its 3G/4G signal in order to increase the carrying capacity.
It expects the total 3G and 4G base stations in the country to reach 6.4 lakh by the end of March 2017 — tripling the capacity — largely due to the entry of Reliance Jio.
According to Idea Cellular, the total number of 3G and 4G cell sites in India was at around 2.4 lakh (240,000) at the end of March 2016, out of which Idea accounted for 27%, or about 65,000.
This number will increase manifold in the ongoing year because of the introduction of Reliance Jio’s services.
As a result, even though Idea will be adding only 35,000 high-speed base stations this year, the total industry is expected to add 400,000. Idea’s share of the total high-speed towers will therefore fall to 25% by the end of this financial year.
This kind of investment, the company said, will distort the demand and pricing scenario for wireless data in India.
In June, before Reliance Jio has launched, India had a total wireless data capacity of 32 petabytes, or about 32,000 terabytes, of transfer per day.
On the other hand, the demand was only 5 petabyte per day, implying a utilization of 14%.
With a tripling of capacity this year, usage will have to go up several times even if operators are to maintain — let alone increase — their utilization levels.
In addition, new spectrum purchased in the upcoming auction would only add to the expected glut of data capacity.