Bharti Airtel, for example, added 9,561 new 3G towers in India during the three months ended September, compared to only around 4,060 new towers added in the previous three months.
That means that on average, the company was inaugurating 100 new third-generation towers per day.
Total number of third-generation towers at the end of September, therefore, was 62,447 in India.
Similarly, Idea Cellular erected 6,246 new 3G towers during the three months compared to only around 3,300 added during the previous three months. The total number of such towers reached 39,867 by the end of September, Idea said.
Vodafone, the third big operator, is yet to disclose its numbers.
This frenetic expansion can be attributed to the emergence of a key competitor — Reliance Jio — as well as the start of services in areas where Airtel won third-generation spectrum earlier this year.
It is expected that the Mukesh Ambani-promoted company will start services with around 70,000 towers under its 4G service in December.
Since each 4G tower can be estimated to have a throughput of around 3 times that of a similar 3G tower due to spectrum and technology factors, that is equivalent to 210,000 3G towers.
In other words, Reliance Jio is likely to start off with a wireless data capacity that is more than the third-generation data capacity of the other big three operators combined.
Of course, the three operators — Idea, Vodafone and Bharti — will still have more combined total wireless data capacity as they also offer data using 2G and 4G towers.
Idea, for example, delivers about 36% of its total data traffic using 2G towers.
The investment into new towers has increased data volumes for these networks. Idea’s total data volume increased by 14.9% compared to the previous three months, while Bharti Airtel’s total data volume increased by 12.7%.
Part of the reason for Idea’s superior growth is that the company has been more aggressive than Airtel in cutting data prices.
While Idea charges only 23.4 paise per MB (Rs 240 per GB), Airtel was still charging Rs 258 per GB on average (gross of forfeiture).