Bharti Airtel investing $9 billion in 3-year network expansion plan

Indian market leader Bharti Airtel has stated its intention to invest INR600 billion ($9.04 billion) in extending its mobile broadband network over the next 3 years.

Dubbed ‘Project Leap’, the expansion is a 10-point plan aimed at providing mobile broadband access to 500,000 villages and fixed broadband to 250,000 small towns in this timeframe, via the deployment of 160,000 new base stations. The operator will replace its older base stations with smaller units capable of managing multiple spectrum bands with a single radio access network, thereby using energy more efficiently.

Airtel India’s 234 million connections give it a 23.5% share of the market, making it the third largest mobile operator in the world – only China Mobile and China Unicom are larger, with 824 million and 287 million subscribers respectively. Bharti Airtel is aiming to deploy 70,000 further base stations by the end of the current fiscal year (March 2016), which would extend mobile broadband access to 60% of its network.

Other elements of the initiative include cutting its carbon emissions by 70% by investing in green energy solutions and using low-power radio equipment. Bharti is exploring new battery technologies to reduce its reliance on diesel, and implementing vectoring technology to its copper broadband lines to offer higher speeds (50Mb/s, up from 16Mb/s) to its 3 million broadband subscribers.

The company has stated that it will use “small cells, carrier aggregation solutions, Wi-Fi and other technologies deployed [to] ensure a world class indoor experience.” Airtel aims to extend its 4G coverage into 400 towns and villages by the end of 2016 in an attempt to gain a first-mover advantage on rival operator (and market newcomer) Reliance Jio, which has pushed its 4G launch into next year after originally scheduling it for June.

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