Idea Cellular, holder of the biggest amount of 4G spectrum in the 1800 MHz band, has opened registration for its 4G service in over 150 cities across eight of 12 circles where it plans to launch the service.
These eight circles are the four southern states, Punjab & Haryana in the north and Orissa and Madhya Pradesh in the centre.
In other words, at one stroke, Idea will have about six times the coverage (in terms of cities) as Bharti Airtel, which has its LTE service in nine cities in the state — a clear indicator of Idea’s seriousness in this space.
Idea’s planned launch cities include obvious ones such as Bangalore and Mysore, but also smaller towns like Mulbagal, Badami etc.
However, it should be noted that part of the reason why Idea is more aggressive about its rollout in these key cities is because it is using 1800 MHz spectrum, while Bharti Airtel has deployed its existing LTE service on 2300 MHz spectrum. The 1800 band — which is what operators like Tata DoCoMo use for their 2G service — can be used to cover large areas of, or even an entire state like Karnataka with less than 30,000 towers.
On the other hand, achieving an equivalent coverage with the 2300 band could require almost double that, making it uneconomical for sparsely populated states like Karnataka.
Still, after missing the first 4G auction in 2010, Idea has always been more aggressive in buying LTE spectrum in subsequent auctions, with the result that it now has a shot at actually matching market leader Bharti Airtel in terms of 4G coverage in the near future. This was unthinkable in the 3G era when Idea was a distinct third after Vodafone and Bharti Airtel when it came to spectrum.
Bharti has LTE-suitable 1800-band spectrum in 13 circles, while Idea has it in 12 and Vodafone in 5.
In addition, Idea Cellular is the fastest growing telecom company in India, and has been so for the last few years, thanks to its reputation as a more affordable — if less glamorous — brand. Idea is the ‘Cognizant’ of the telecom world and has been more willing to offer discounts and cut prices compared to the other two, which has helped it grow its volumes — and profit — faster.
Meanwhile, even Idea will not be able to match the scale at which Reliance Jio will start its operations in the next few days. While the Aditya Birla company is planning to launch its LTE services in around 150 cities over the next couple of months, Jio’s network is in its final testing stage in thousands of towns and cities across the country. The Mukesh Ambani-promoted firm is expected to launch services by the end of this month.
Click here to check out the list of 4G cities under Idea’s network plan.