The rivalry between two leading telecom operators will not end anytime soon, as Airtel is likely to buy spectrum in the 700 MHz bands in the upcoming auction. Reliance Jio is currently the only telecom operator in India to have purchased spectrum in the most premium band. In addition, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) plans to provide 10 MHz spectrum in a 700 MHz band to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), which means that both Jio and the state-owned telecom operator will have an advantage over Bharti Airtel.
However, buying spectrum in the 700 MHz band is not that easy as Airtel has to spend Rs 40 000 crore for the same, which could increase its debt. Meanwhile, the IIFL Securities report states that Airtel’s spectrum holding in the low-frequency bands is 50 percent smaller than Reliance Jio’s.
Other than that, Airtel has the option to rebundle the existing 900 MHz band to offer 5G services, but 4G is also expected to remain for a longer period. In that case, Airtel’s spectrum might be unsuitable to compete with Jio, so this clearly shows that Airtel has to buy spectrum in the 700 MHz band to offer 5G services.
The 900 MHz band belongs to the low frequency bands, which are known to serve larger areas with fewer mobile towers, and Airtel previously used the 900 MHz band to improve indoor 4G coverage.
Also read: BSNL is likely to get a spectrum allocation worth Rs 62,000 crore from the Department of Transport to start 5G services in August 2023
Non-standalone Airtel technology for 5G
It is worth noting that Airtel has used Non-Standalone (NSA) mode for 5G services. NSA mode is known as advanced technology and global traffic is also running on the same network. On the other hand, India’s largest telecom operator Reliance Jio is using the 700 MHz band to deliver 5G services. The telecom operator has opted for standalone mode, which is more advanced than NSA. For those who don’t know, Reliance Jio is considering 5G coverage by December 2023 and Airtel will launch services by March 2024.
NSA mode will support a 5G network, but is based on a 4G/LTE infrastructure and uses 5G-based radio antennas, while standalone 5G offers an end-to-end 5G network. It is the most advanced technology, offering a complete 5G network.
5G network in India
Although 5G has been launched in India, the pan-Indian rollout will take some time as India’s third largest telecom operator has not announced its plans to launch the services in the country. Also, this is the initial state and it will take a while for telecom operators to set up the entire ecosystem. That is why we believe that Airtel has some time to bring its services to standalone mode. However, sooner or later Airtel has to go for 700 MHz to stay between the two Indian telecom brands as BSNL is also in the same race and offer better connectivity to its users.