Airtel-4G-logo

Two months after stating plans to offer 4G LTE services for smartphones, India’s largest telco Airtel has finally rolled out the service in Bengaluru today.

The service is however currently limited to iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, since only these two phones currently support the TD-LTE 2300 MHz band on which Airtel has currently deployed its 4G service. The telco has adopted Circuit Switched Fall Back (CSFB) technology for the current rollout wherein the data browsing happens on 4G network while voice calls will be routed through 2G and 3G networks.

That being said, its worth noting that Airtel is looking to use the 1800MHz spectrum it acquired in the 2G auctions yesterday, to roll out high speed 4G networks using FD-LTE technology in the 1800 MHz band for a pan-India 4G rollout. This will enable users on other handsets to also make use of Airtel’s 4G service, although there is currently no information on when Airtel plans to roll this service out in India.

4G Service at 3G Tariff but users have to change SIM 

Airtel says the service will be available for both pre-paid and postpaid customers. New customers can pick up a 4G SIM and choose a 3G data plan to get started while existing customers can use this service at the same price of their existing 3G plans, although they will have to change their existing SIM to a 4G SIM.

An Airtel spokesperson told Medianama that previously announced 4G tariffs are applicable only for 4G users on dongles & WiFi routers. 4G users on this service will be charged based on the 3G plan they choose. So essentially, users will be migrated to a 4G service at the applicable 3G tariffs. Interestingly though, we noticed that Airtel’s 4G microsite promoting this service links to Airtel’s 4G tariff page.

Remember that Airtel had reduced its 4G data tariff in June 2013, following which the 4G plans had actually become cheaper than Airtel’s 3G data plans, although there is an additional extra cost of purchasing a 4G-compatible dongle or Wi-Fi router.

Last month, Airtel had claimed to have 0.1 M 4G subscribers in India for the quarter ended December 31, 2013. This was despite a lack of TD-LTE supported 4G device ecosystem in India. While the company is pushing for the adoption of 4G services in the country, it had strangely capped its 4G speeds to only 10Mbps in July 2013.

Airtel is currently the only telco offering 4G services in the country, although several operators including Reliance Jio Infocomm are expected to commercially launch its respective 4G services in 2014.