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Airtel joins Vodafone–Idea in offering ‘premium’ 4G for subscribers paying more

Airtel will now offer better 4G connectivity to users who pay more, the telco announced on Monday. TelecomTalk first reported on the development on May 24. “Airtel has deployed advanced technologies that give its Platinum mobile customers preference on the network. As a result all Platinum customers will experience faster 4G speeds,” the company said in a press release. Any subscriber paying over Rs 499 is now designated as a Platinum subscriber, Airtel said. The company has clearly had this in the works for months, but chose to roll it out now — the TV ad for Platinum features people lining up outside a crowded building without masks or any social distancing, indicating that it was shot before the lockdown.

It’s not really unusual to offer higher speeds for customers paying more — practically every home broadband provider does it. But on mobile networks, speeds and signal strength can vary depending on where you are, so it makes sense that so far, cellular operators haven’t really committed on different speed tiers. Even Vodafone–Idea, which started this practice of offering higher speeds for high-ARPU postpaid subscribers last November, did not commit to actual speeds that its more lucrative customers would get. That makes sense — with the inherent challenges of mobile broadband, it makes more sense to let customers pay more for the benefit of, say, getting priority when an access point gets crowded.

This essentially leaves Jio as the sole operator (for the moment) that still offers largely the same connectivity to all retail mobile broadband users, whether they’re prepaid or postpaid, no matter how much they pay. In any case, Airtel moving to entice users into postpaid is consistent with the operator’s disappointment at how postpaid growth slowed down in the aftermath of Jio’s entry in 2016. “There’s no reason it should be this small in India,” Bharti Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal said of postpaid adoption in an earnings call in May. “The only reason [it is low] is arbitrage in pricing between prepaid and postpaid, before prepaid pricing crashed. Postpaid was growing nicely before [Jio’s entry] and this led to compression in prepaid pricing, fueling reduction in postpaid take-up.”

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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