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Airtel doubles site footprint, hits out at Jio

Over the past two years, Indian market leader Bharti Airtel has doubled its total footprint of mobile network sites in India.

Airtel stated that it had deployed 180,000 sites since 31st March 2015 – the same number that it had deployed during its entire 20-year history up to that point. In November 2015, it announced that it would invest INR600 billion ($9 billion) into transforming its Indian network over the next three years under an initiative entitled Project Leap.

The operator also revealed that in the course of deploying 3G and 4G coverage across India’s 22 telecom circles, it had rolled out over 14,500km of fibre and doubled its total transmission capacity, as well as achieving an eightfold increase in its mobile backhaul capacity.

Abhay Savargaonkar, the operator’s director of networks, noted that this increase meant that Airtel was well-positioned to increase its capacity “very quickly” in the future. Airtel currently leads the market with a 23% share from its 268 million mobile connections, but faces tough competition from newcomer Reliance Jio, which has pulled in 100 million subscribers since its September launch by offering free voice and data.

Airtel has hit out at Jio’s “predatory pricing”, claiming to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) in February this year that Jio was abusing its relationship to one of the biggest companies in India, Reliance Industries. Airtel has previously filed complaints over Jio’s extended promotions, and most recently complained that Jio failed to immediately shelve its Summer Surprise offer after it was told to scrap the promotion by regulator TRAI.

In response to the threat from Jio, in February Airtel signed a deal to acquire Telenor’s Indian operations. The additional 54.5 million subscribers will give Airtel a total market share of around 30%.

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