Just yesterday, Airtel has once again reignited the hopes for millions of Indians for fast and cheap data by announcing a reduction in 4G data prices. Quickly news websites ran stories with headlines like “Airtel prices 4G packages below 3Gâ€ etc. Note that earlier Videocon Telecommunication promised to offer 4G data at 2G prices! Ofcourse it sounds too good but the bottom line remains the same â€“ where are 4G networks?
While the world talking about 5G telecom services, data connectivity is yet to be made available in all parts of the country let alone 3G. Today, even various parts are yet to be covered with proper voice connectivity. In this scenario, talks about 4G services seems hilarious.
The Government of India auctioned 4G spectrum in the year 2010. It was Bharti Airtel which rolled out 4G services in Kolkata first in the year 2012, followed by Bengaluru, Pune and Chandigarh. Thanks to Airtel’s stakes in Qualcomm, the operator now effectively holds 4G spectrum for eight circles including Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana, and Kerala.
Reliance Jio, which holds the pan India 4G license, was expected to launch its services last year itself. In August this year, Aircel launched its 4G services in Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir. It is now left with West Bengal and North East. Tikona Digital and Auger are other two players who have 4G spectrum in India.
Note that as per rules, 2015 is the last year for all companies who won BWA spectrum to roll out services in at least 90 percent of the service areas, failing which the Department of Telecom will have the right to withdraw the radiowaves. So expect next year more circles, especially cities, will get 4G services.
As far as rates are concerned, operators are most likely to offer 4G at 3G data rates. Similar pricing strategy was observed in case of 3G; many operators are now offering 3G data at 2G rates, especially for the heavy data users.
The device scenario is though at nascent stage at this point of time but it is quite promising. 4G enabled smartphones are available as low as Rs 9,999 (Redmi Note) while almost all high end smartphones come with LTE compatibility. Many other device manufacturers are waiting for the roll out of 4G network, especially in important circles, to reveal their cards.
However, like the case with 3G, seamless connectivity is one area where the operators need to have a look while offering 4G services. Even now, most of the times we have to bear the excruciatingly slow 2G outside home circles if our operator does not have 3G services in the destination circle. Similar situation is bound to arise in case of 4G. Since, barring Reliance Jio none of the operators have pan-India BWA spectrum, they will be in no position to offer seamless 4G connectivity throughout the country. This means, even if you have opted for 4G, you may have to depend on 3G, or worse 2G, outside your home circle.
In this regard, Supreme Court’s verdict on 3G roaming pact between Idea, Airtel, and Vodafone will have a huge impact. If SC rules in favour of the operators, dismissing DoT’s move to impose a fine on them, then it will also encourage 4G players to go for similar pacts for offering seamless 4G services.