In a development heralded by company executives as the “largest deployment of network infrastructure in the history of India,” Bharti Airtel—India’s top-ranked wireless carrier by revenue—announced plans on Monday to invest US$9 billion on network upgrades that would expand mobile broadband coverage to every town and city in India as well as to half a million rural villages.
Bharti, which, in 2012, launched India’s first fourth-generation (4G) LTE wireless broadband network in Kolkata, reported 235.2 million subscribers on its books at the end of the second quarter. Known as “Project Leap,” the initiative calls for the construction of 160,000 additional mobile service base stations within the next three years that would double Bharti’s current level of base station deployment. The investment also covers the installation of 550,000 kilometers of fiber optic backbone that would extend the reach of Bharti’s domestic and international network operations. (In addition to India which ranks as the world’s second-largest wireless market, Bharti also offers fixed and mobile broadband services service to customers in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and in 17 African countries.)
Project Leap comes on the heels of a similar announcement by rival Vodafone, which recently said it would spend US$2 billion to upgrade its network facilities in India. For Bharti and Vodafone, the network improvements are expected to boost the competitive position of both companies as carriers throughout India prepare for the debut next year of upstart provider Reliance Jio. Backed by Mukesh Ambani, the wealthiest man in India, Reliance has spent US$16 billion to date in building a national 4G wireless broadband network that has been described as the most expensive corporate launch in Indian history.