With 2.7 lakh km, Reliance Jio overtakes Airtel in fiber backbone


Fiber length, end of 2015

According to the latest numbers released by Reliance Industries as part of its quarterly update, its telecom arm Reliance Jio has comfortably overtaken all other telecom companies in India in terms of the length of its fiber backhaul.

Fiber backhaul is crucial to the operations of any telecom company as it helps it deliver high-speed data services.

For example, Idea Cellular, which has been in the telecom industry for about 20 years, still has only around 1 lakh km of fiber, while Reliance Jio, which is yet to start commercial operations, already has 2.7 lakh km.

The reason: While it is possible to provide voice services without using fiber connectivity, it is almost impossible to provide high-speed data services without using fiber backbone.

While Idea Cellular uses point to point wireless technology to connect most of its cellphone towers to its core network, Jio uses optic cables for the same purpose.

A traditional GSM base station (tower) could make do with a 2-4 Mbps connection to the core network, but for a 3G HSPA base station, you require about 30 Mbps.

Similarly, for an LTE Advanced base station of the type being rolled out by some operators in India, you need connectivity of 1 Gbps or more, and this cannot easily be delivered by wireless backhaul.

This is where Jio’s investment in fiber starts making sense. Though Jio has not deployed LTE Advanced (unlike Airtel, which has done so in Kerala), the company is expected to transition its technology from LTE Category 4 to Cat 10 or higher next year and must plan in advance.


The closest rival to Jio in terms of fiber in the ground is Bharti Airtel, which has around 2.1 lakh route km, followed by RCom, which has 1.9 lakh. Idea, as we have already mentioned, has about 1 lakh route km.

Jio said it plans to add another 30,000 route km over the next ten months or so.

The operator has also put in around 1.4 lakh 4G wireless nodes and base stations, out of which 50,000 are based on ‘small cell’ technology and are to be found in bigger cities like Mumbai and Delhi. In comparison, Bharti Airtel is estimated to have around 91,000 3G or 3G+4G cell sites.

Jio has said that by March next year, it would have close to 2 lakh wireless 4G points, out of which 1 lakh will be ‘small cell’-based nodes and the other 1 lakh will be full-scale base stations or towers.