Airtel calls for more Indian towers amid nationwide 3G expansion

Indian market leader Bharti Airtel is investing INR64 billion ($1 billion) in its 3G network to take its coverage nationwide.

Over the past year, Airtel’s 3G connection numbers have doubled to around 20 million, although they still represent less than 10% of its subscriber base. Airtel’s 3G network covers 21 of the country’s 22 service areas and runs over the 900MHz and 2.1GHz bands. The operator has a market share of around 23%.

The operator acquired 111.6MHz of spectrum at auction in March in three bands, spending a total of INR291 billion. It now provides 4G services in 8 Indian cities, having most recently launched services in Mysore.

Airtel is already expanding its 3G coverage, having commissioned Nokia Networks to extend its 3G network in 3 of its current circles as well as launching into 5 new ones. The 4-year contract will also see Nokia providing planning and optimisation services.

Airtel’s MD and CEO for India and South Asia Gopal Vittal recently spoke out about issues that face the operator, noting in particular that it was seeing an increased amount of dropped calls due to an insufficient number of towers in India.

In response to the country’s telecoms minister urging the major operators to improve customer service, Vittal said that “both spectrum and more sites for mobile towers” would be required to achieve this. He added that another issue would be to “create awareness among the people and clear misinformation that they have about radiation” from telecoms infrastructure.

Previously, telecoms minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that operators now had no excuse not to “to walk the extra mile” in terms of call drops. He said that providers have access to enough spectrum to improve service quality.

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