Vodafone today launched its high-speed 4G service in select pockets of the city and said the remaining areas will be covered by March-end.
Vodafone, the largest telecom operator in the megapolis with over 33 per cent market share in terms of customers, said it will charge only 3G rates for the time being.
The operator also said it will offer free upgrades to 4G and extra data for Vodafone Red customers for a month.
The company’s Managing Director and Chief Executive Sunil Sood, however, admitted that faster adoption will take time as only 15 per cent of its close to 9 million customers here have 4G-enabled handsets.
The focus will be on selling bundled services to push upgrades, he added.
Sood said that only 1 per cent of the close to a billion mobile handsets in use across the country have LTE or 4G compatible handsets.
Around 30 per cent of active mobile users have no data-compatible handsets at all, he said.
Only 4 per cent of Vodafone’s close to 190 million customers have 4G handsets.
Sood refused to offer a revenue or customer base target for the new service, saying the targets are internal.
He also said the high-speed 4G services will currently be available only in prominent business and residential corridors along the western and southern parts of the megapolis.
The complete coverage of the region, including eastern suburbs and New Mumbai licence areas, will be completed by the end of March.
With the Mumbai launch, Vodafone, which has 4G bandwidth in five circles, completes the first phase of its 4G rollout. Sood said the second phase will begin from April.
When asked how will the company do that since it does not have the compatible radio waves, he said it is looking at both spectrum sharing and trading, but refused to share any details.
The company has already launched 4G services in Kerala, Mysuru, Kolkata and Delhi-NCR regions, Sood said, adding it will rollout the service in Bengaluru tomorrow.
He also said its 4G customers can avail of the services while on international roaming in Britain, Germany, Romania, Spain and the Netherlands as of now, and many more countries will be added in the coming weeks.
On the issue of pricing of 700 MHz spectrum, crucial for 4G services, Sood said, “It is atrociously priced. We are very unhappy with the Trai pricing and we don’t think we can afford the radio waves at the current level of pricing.”
Telecom regulator Trai has fixed the base price for 700 MHz spectrum at over Rs 11,000 crore for the next round of spectrum auctions.
On spectrum trading/sharing, he said the company needs spectrum and will adopt all means to get it, but did not elaborate.
When asked to comment on Trai’s decision of not allowing differential pricing for internet access, he said Vodafone supports net neutrality.
“We believe in a strong, independent and neutral net. We are also for net equality wherein no operator is allowed to charge more for offering the same kind of service,” Sood said.
On call drops, he said since last April the company has installed 1,200 more towers across the country and blamed “Juhi Chawlas of the country” for their hyper-active campaign against the alleged harmful effects of mobile towers, which is preventing telecom providers from serving the people better.
For instance, he said Vodafone does not cover the tony Malabar Hill area of south Mumbai thanks to the orchestrated campaign by the film actress and a handful of others.
In the Lutyens Bungalow Zone of Delhi it is handicapped as there are no high-rises, he said.
But he was quick to add that the government has now identified some special locations for installing the telecom masts.