By mid-2020 Airtel will have refarmed its 3G spectrum, meaning that its entire customer base in India will be using either 2G or 4G services

India’s third biggest telco, Bharti Airtel, has said that it intends to begin shutting down its 3G mobile networks across the country by the middle of next year.

During the company’s earnings call, Bharti Airtel’s CEO Gopal Vittal, said that 3G would become obsolete as the company moved more of its 120 million strong customer base across to 4G services.

Probably by April 2020, we will really have only 2G and 4G. So all our spectrum will sit on 4G other than the administered spectrum which is on 2G, plus a small slug of spectrum that we require to run our 2G networks…everything else will be sitting on the 4G band," journalists from the Economic Times of India quoted Vittal as saying.

Currently Bharti Airtel has around 95 million subscribers on its 4G networks, leaving a further 25 million still using 2G and 3G services. 

Speaking last week at the ET Telecomm 5G Congress, Vittal bemoaned the excessive costs that Indian operators were being forced to bear. Closing down its 3G networks will be a key cost saving measure as the company looks to free up cash for its 5G network buildout. 

“The cost of doing business here has to come down. The spectrum usage charges, the taxes, the litigation that the industry is subjected to, the USO fund that is just sitting with the government unused, are all constraining the industry,” he said.

“If you look at the investment that we are making, for every 100 rupees that we earn, we spend 34 rupees on capex. For most other companies in this industry, that figure would be closer to 16 or 17 rupees,” he said.

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India’s telecoms regulator must resist the urge to make a fast buck on 5G spectrum