India’s 5G race: Bharti Airtel reaches 500 cities ahead of rival Reliance Jio


Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio continue to exchange the 5G rollout lead, leaving Vodafone Idea (Vi) and state-run BSNL trailing far behind

This week, Indian mobile network operator Bharti Airtel has announced that its 5G network has reached its next milestone, now being accessible in 500 cities.

“We have already covered 500 cities and are adding 30 to 40 cities every single day. By September of 2023, we expect to expand our 5G footprint to all of urban India,” said Randeep Sekhon, Bharti Airtel’s CTO.

This news puts the operator’s rollout one step ahead of its largest rival, Reliance Jio, which reported its own 5G network as covering ‘over 400 cities’ according to a company statement earlier this week.

After much delays, India finally concluded its 5G spectrum auction in August last year, with Jio and Airtel both launching their commercial 5G networks at the start of October. Since then, the two operators have been racing to complete their rollout across the country’s major cities, with Airtel now having stolen back the lead after Jio’s early lead.

Jio is aiming to have its nationwide 5G rollout completed by the end of the year, while Airtel says its rollout will be finished in March 2024.

India’s other major operators, Vi and BSNL, however, continue to struggle. Vi’s financial chaos has meant that, despite acquiring 5G spectrum in the national auction, the company has yet to begin its rollout.

The operator has yet to announce a formal timeline for its rollout, though the company was reported to have entered into 5G equipment discussions with Nokia earlier this month.

State-run BSNL, meanwhile, is still rolling out 4G, and having set its sights on launching 5G in 2024.

Nonetheless, despite this very lopsided 5G race, the Indian government remains very positive about the country’s 5G future – so much so that PM Narendra Modi said earlier this week that the country is already taking an early lead in the development of 6G.

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