Bharti Airtel focusing capital investments on 5G, no plans to shut down 2G network

Bharti Airtel, India’s second largest telco, is redirecting its capital investments to its next gen 5G network from 4G, but has no plans of shutting its legacy 2G network, which still caters to a meaningful user base, the company’s chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon said Friday.

“The cost of running 2G is miniscule, at least for Airtel since we are running all our radios on single RAN. There are still users in India using a 2G device so shutting down 2G would mean denying them access,” Sekhon said at the ETTelecom 5G Congress 2023.

India still has some 300-350 million feature phone users using 2G, of which less than 100 million are on the Airtel network.

He added that 2G costs include moderate annual maintenance and power expenses mainly, keeping the cost layer for the service very thin and manageable since there is no new spectrum to be acquired for the service.

“We are taking down our 4G capacity investment and bringing all our investments to 5G,” he added.

As the device ecosystem moves from 2G to 4G, and then 4G to 5G, he expects the 2G layer to become thinner and at some point in the future, the telco may consider shutting it down, but not right now, he said.

Sekhon pointed out that the company was the first to shut down 3G since using the internet on 4G was efficient. Even before the pandemic, Airtel shut down its 3G network and refarmed its radios to 4G.On the telco’s progress in 5G roll out, Sekhon said that it has already started seeing green offshoots after deploying its 5G network in data-heavy regions and areas, such as around educational institutions.

Airtel Friday also announced 5G presence in 500 cities.

Sekhon also shed light on Airtel’s take on the FWA ecosystem, and its potential in the country. He listed out crucial things for the success of FWA services—ubiquitous 5G coverage, affordable connectivity and affordable devices.

“We are working with chip makers, software developers and hardware manufacturers to make FWA devices in India, which will be affordable. We believe that if these devices are priced too high, then it (the FWA use case) will be a non-starter in India,” Sekhon elaborated.

He also said that it is the right time for India to start shaping and contributing to the 6G ecosystem so that India can take leadership in shaping the agenda for the next generation technology, rather than just adopt global technology.

“We should shape the 6G agenda. The intellectual property which we should create as Indians in contributing to this 6G journey and making it relevant to the needs of countries like India. It will be absolutely the right time,” said Sekhon.

The Centre on March 22 unveiled the ‘Bharat 6G’ vision document, which has recommended opening up more spectrum across all bands, including mmWave band, and promoting research in the terahertz (THz) band, among others.

Minister of state (MoS) for communications Devusinh Chauhan has said that India will be able to develop a fully homegrown 6G stack by the end of this decade (2030-end).


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