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Airtel to invest Rs 60,000 Cr for upgrading network through Project Leap

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Bharti Airtel has launched Project Leap, through which it will invest Rs 60,000 crore in the next three years on network upgradation and modernization. This includes a ten point program that consists of deploying base stations, future proofing the network, expanding mobile broadband networks and reducing its carbon footprint.

According to Airtel, this investment is over and above the Rs 1,60,000 crores it has already invested in active and passive networks, fiber, spectrum, submarine cables and other systems. Airtel’s Vodafone-like naming scheme aside, the current program will essentially consist of:

– Deploying over 70,000 base station in FY15-16 as well as making 60% of its network mobile broadband enabled by March 2016. Overall, the company plans to deploy over 160,000 base stations in the next 3 years.

– Expanding broadband coverage to all towns and over 250,000 village by March 2016 and 500,000 villages in 3 years.

– Deployment of a range of solutions including small cells, carrier aggregation solutions, wi-fi and the use of multiple technologies across various spectrum bands for providing voice and data services inside buildings. The company mentions that it will deploy over 100,000 solutions through a combination of these technologies in 3 years.

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– Deployment of 550,000 km of domestic and international fiber to lower latency and improve capacity.

– Existing networks will be modernized by swapping legacy networks and base stations over 3 years, and replacing them with smaller, more compact and efficient technologies. These base stations will use a single radio access network to manage multiple spectrum bands.

– Upgradation of home broadband networks by upgrading copper cables with vectoring technology (presumably something like this). This will allow it to offer 50 Mbps speeds from its current 16 Mbps by 2016. Airtel will also deploy fiber to the home connections to offer upto 100 Mbps speeds.

– Deployment of internet wireless access network (IWAN) and fiber to the building connections for providing small and medium enterprises with connectivity.

– Upgradation of service operation centre by investing in tools like SON (Self Optimising Networks for automatic network optimization), Geo spatial network tools for targeted network planning, capacity enhancements, CEM (Customer experience management) as well as software defined networks.

– Investments in green energy through deployment of modern and lesser power consuming radio technologies including compact base stations and small cells. It will also use multiple band antennas and use new battery technologies to reduce energy consumption and diesel dependency. According to Airtel, this will help it reduce its carbon footprint by up to 70% on a per unit basis, in the next 3 years.

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– “Leap in their locality on a near real time basis.” By this, we presume the network means to expand to areas that it does not yet have coverage in.

Push for network expansion:

Mobile adoption has been rising in India, with the country adding 7.74 million active mobile connections in September 2015. Given this, most of the major telecom operators have been upgrading their network in the country. Some of these include 4G networks, which were supposed to be rolled out by September as per BWA rollout obligations.

– Last month, Idea Cellular purchased the rights to use spectrum currently with Videocon Telecom in the 1800 MHz band in two key circles – Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (West) – for Rs 3310 crore.

– The same month, RCOM announced that it would merge with MTS. With this, the new entity would acquire 9 million of MTS’ customers and 800 / 850 MHz band spectrum.

– Again in November, Vodafone said it would invest Rs 13,000 crore for capacity augmentation and new business initiatives in India. This was after the telecom operator launched Project Spring earlier this year, under which it claims to have added over 22,000 new 3G sites, taking the total to nearly 40,000.

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– In October, Reliance Jio said it planned to raise Rs 3000 crore by issuing secured redeemable non-convertible debentures on private placement basis, to aid its 4G rollout. In May,  the company had raised a $750 million loan (~Rs 4500 crore) from nine banks on a 10 year repayment period, to finance goods and services from Samsung and Ace Technologies.

Our Airtel coverage here.

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