Are you happy with Airtel’s position after years of industry turmoil?
After annihilation of the sector, we are now in a better territory with the government package that came through. I would say certainly we are on the road to recovery.
Can we expect more Google like deals for Airtel?
We work very deeply with everybody. Google, Facebook, Apple… we have been exclusive distributors for them for a long time, and also Microsoft.
Any more equity investments in the pipeline?
There’s nothing that is going on at the moment.
Has the competitive intensity settled down now in the industry?
The market is very competitive. That we have lived for 25 years. We are a product of competition. But what is required was a regulatory healing touch which is coming through.
Do you think Vodafone Idea is out of the woods now?
It is not out of the woods yet…there is a lot of work that needs to be done. In my mind, the company needs serious investments. So, I wouldn’t say they are out of the woods yet. But I think that the government’s package and some stake they would like to bring into VIL, will bring some stability.
How do you look at competition in the satcom industry with Reliance Jio getting into it with the JV with SES?
Reliance is doing distribution. We are in production and distribution. Our distribution will be through the Hughes joint venture. India is a large country. OneWeb is a global network. India is a small portion of that in terms of bandwidth. We will have no problems selling the Indian bandwidth, which is very small.
Do you think satcom is going to disrupt the telecom industry dynamics? What is the DoT (Department of Telecommunications) and DoS (Department of Space) decide to auction the spectrum for satcom?
First, there is zero chance of disruption. Satcom is only for areas where there is no mobile network. Deserts, jungles, Himalayas, water, aviation…so we are not competing with GSM operators… I have my own GSM operator.
On the auctions, I keep on hearing about this. What will be auctioned? The 50 km area of spectrum will be auctioned? I just need two zones of 50 kilometres… one is north and one is south… So what’s the demand for auction? This is a shared spectrum. Everybody will use the same spectrum. Every satellite operator, whether it’s JIO-SES, or Inmarsat, or Viacom or Oneweb or Starlink. Everybody’s using that spectrum. How do you even auction it to one at the exclusion of others? And if you take 50 kilometres and you say that I will take it, you take it I’ll go somewhere else, to the next 50 kilometres in the country.
Nowhere in the world does satellite spectrum ever be auctioned. Why would India want to exclude the satellite option in the country? If there is be an auction, obviously no satellite operator will participate. So, what’s the point?
What’s your view on auctioning the millimetre wave spectrum bands (26 GHz, 28 GHz and 37 GHz)?
Millimetre waves are an important part of 5G networks. They should also be put up for auction for the terrestrial networks. And equally, there should be a reservation for satellite.
When is Airtel going to start 5G services. Also, has India delayed the 5G auction too much?
Are you missing 5G? That’s the question. Use cases of drone management, autonomous cars, robotic surgery…those are real use cases. We are not there yet. Yes, you’ll get faster speeds but they will be there. There is a desire of the government to start 5G soon, right? As soon as the recommendations come and auctions happen, within months I would say you will have early 5G networks coming up and Airtel has been getting ready for it for a long time now.
Why is Airtel focused on Open RAN technology when you have been working with traditional gear vendors? Why the change in strategy?
We are working with Ericsson, Nokia in 5G and Mavenir for OpenRAN and others. We have also signed an MoU with Tata to do an Open RAN stack. So, there are more options and we keep on working with all viable options…the world is moving towards more open-source networks and we will have to experiment with those.
Telcos say 5G base price should be slashed. Do you have any alternative models that can be adopted for auction of airwaves in India?
We need to see reasonable prices for the (5G) spectrum. Every country has their own model. China has given spectrum free in exchange for aggressive rollout. That’s one model. India will have to choose a model that suits it…all we say is a balance between revenue and Digital India’s vision is needed.
Do you want the spectrum to be given to operators or enterprises for private networks?
We know how to do it. Why do we need to learn to run networks for industrial enterprises? We will run it for them.
And are you speaking with any enterprise at the moment?
It is too early. We need to get our teeth into it and the world over, 5G private networks are still far and few. So just let them develop. We are very quick learners and connected to the whole world and will bring it as soon as they’re ready in shape to be deployed commercially.
According to the latest data, Jio lost a lot of mobile phone subscribers…
There are some ups, and some downs. Some move in a particular quarter, others in another quarter… When we did our minimum charge, we had to take off 45 million customers. There is nothing to be read out there.
Have you seen any subscriber loss as a result of tariff hike?
Obviously. The dual SIMs get rationalized. That’s why you can see growth. We saw some loss and some had no growth… but the function was rationalization. 4G bundles still went up but total customers didn’t go up because of rationalisation.
How bullish is Airtel on Make in India with the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme?
I think if there was ever a chance, this is it. I can tell you I have always been skeptical about the half-hearted measures earlier. But what has been done in the last two years, I would say that along with the China issue, gives India a very, very strong chance to win now.