Bharti Airtel has rolled out its 4G service in Bengaluru today. This follows the company’s 4G rollout in Kolkata last month. Airtel has partnered with the telecom equipment and device maker, Huawei to build and operate its TD-LTE (time division duplex long term evolution) network in Karnataka. In June 2010, Airtel had secured BWA spectrum in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab and Kolkata for a total consideration of Rs. 3314.36 crores during the Broadband Wireless Access spectrum auction. The company has partnered with different vendors for each deployment: Nokia Siemens Networks, Huawei, Ericsson and ZTE to build and operate its TD-LTE (time division duplex long term evolution) network in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab and Kolkata respectively.
Tariff: Airtel informed that they have introduced a new tariff plan called Break free Ultimate for customers in Bengaluru which will offer 30GB data for Rs 2999. Apart from this, Airtel will offer breakfree, breakfree max and breakfree ultra tariff plans announced last month. While Breakfree will offer 6GB data for a monthly rental of Rs 999, breakfree max will offer 9GB data for a monthly rental of Rs 1399 and breakfree ultra will offer 18GB data for a monthly rental of Rs 1999. After the usage of free data, the 4G speeds will throttle down to 128kbps across all plans. Airtel 4G will currently be available for prepaid and postpaid.
In order to incentivize the users to opt for 4G connections, Airtel is offering bill discounts to postpaid customers. The customers on Rs 999 plan will receive Rs 167/bill discount for the first six bill cycles while the customers on the Rs 1399 plan will receive Rs 466/bill discount for the first six bill cycles.
Bundled devices: Customers who are on the Rs 1999 plan will get the 4G dongle for free if they opt for an 24-month contract, along with a bill discount of Rs 333/bill for the first 24 bill cycles and customers who are on the Rs 2999 will get the 4G dongle for free if they opt for a 12-month contract, along with Rs 666/bill for the first 12 bill cycles.
Speeds: Airtel claimed that its service will currently offer download speeds of up to 40Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps. We tried the service in the company’s 4G demo stations and got around 32-34 Mbps download speeds and 8 Mbps upload speeds.
4G Smartbytes: Airtel also introduced 4G add on packs called Smartbytes which will allow postpaid users to extend their 4G data cap after they exhaust their limit. Through this initiative, Airtel will offer 3GB, 5GB and 10GB data for Rs 600, Rs 875 and Rs 1500 respectively. Although it should be noted that these add-on plans are limited to Postpaid users only.
Airtel Movies: Airtel has partnered with BigFlix to offer online movie streaming of 35 movies to its 4G customers through Airtel Movies. In the initial month, users can stream 10 movies free of cost followed by a monthly subscription cost of Rs 149/month. The movies offered include Rang de Basanti, Dev D, Khosla ka Ghosla, Raajneeti. Kaminey and so on.
Regions: Following today’s launch, Airtel’s 4G service is currently available in Kolkata and Bengaluru, and the company intends to launch it in Maharashtra (excluding Mumbai) and Punjab, although the exact timeline hasn’t been disclosed yet.
Devices: Since 4G-compatible handsets aren’t available in Indian market yet, Airtel will offer LTE compatible wireless devices including multi-mode USB dongles (Huawei E392) and a Indoor Wireless gateway (Huawei B593). The USB dongle is priced at Rs 7,999 and will feature a USIM card slot, a Micro SD card slot and a USB 2.0 connector while the Indoor wireless gateway is priced at Rs 7,750 and will convert the LTE connection to Wi-Fi network which can then be shared across multiple devices. The wireless gateway also features a multiple user access support, multi screen video chat, a built-in DHCP server and NAT and a web-based management system.
When asked how the response to 4G has been, Sanjay Kapoor, Airtel’s CEO for India & South Asia stated that it is still early in the day but claimed that the response has been tremendous and that they had to double their sales team in Kolkata to match up to the demand. While the company’s decision to bundle discounts and devices might attract some new users, we feel that plans are still expensive, and 4G needs a services, content and device eco-system to push adoption.