If all had gone according to plan, telecom consumers in Delhi and Mumbai would have had their first taste of 4G services in December last year. Now it looks as if worries about whether networks can support superfast data when more users climb on to the service will push launches out to September.
Airtel, Vodafone, and Reliance Jio claim that they are pushing for perfect quality and say that the spectrum available currently doesn’t allow for consumers to experience a seamless service when they move from one part of the city to another.
Tests have been completed and operators have started to distribute 4G SIM cards, which would allow some lucky subscribers the chance to get a taste of data nirvana if they happened to pass through an area where 4G networks are up and running.
These areas may cover as much as 75% of Delhi and Mumbai taken cumulatively but are scattered across the cities, meaning that the operators dare not charge for the service yet.
There is no doubt that the 4G eco-system has evolved in the last six months, with launch of over twenty 4G-compatible handset models from various companies in India.
But users are watching like hawks, and there’s no room for slip ups in service or handset quality. “Today you have 4G phones from Rs 6,000 to Rs 20,000 in the market so the quality will be screened by more customers that just a few premium customers,” said NK Goyal, telecom analyst and founder of CMAI.
Pricing the services will also be critical and operators are yet to work out a surefire formula.
“First, 4G is a significantly superior service, secondly the operators are looking at customers who have experienced certain speed and are willing pay more for better service and speed, unlike the ‘monsoon hungama’ package, where the customer acquisition was largely driven by lower price,” says Mahesh Uppal, telecom analyst and Director ComsFirst.
Monsoon Hungama was a tariff package for 2G service launched by Reliance Infocomm in 2003.
“4G is a premium service, when we launch, it should be flawless, else there is chance that customer will walk away. It is difficult where there is lack of contiguous spectrum and problems of tower installation,” said a senior executive in Airtel. Similar views were expressed by Vodafone and RJio executives.
It is understood that the operators would like more clarity on net neutrality, treating all consumers the same would make it more difficult for them to recover costs.
A source in RJio said, “We are still testing our networks and want to ensure the quality of service is premium.” None of the three operators named above responded to email queries from HT.
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