Bharti Airtel is taking on Reliance Jio’s onslaught with plans to launch a VoLTE service and bundled plans for 4G feature phones. The move is a direct response to the latter’s new JioPhone, a zero-cost 4G handset that was announced last week.
Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal shared the company’s plans during a call with analysts recently. Its VoLTE network will be ready by March 2018. As of now, Reliance Jio is the only major player with support for the service, giving it a clear advantage over others.
For now, Vittal says Airtel isn’t going to respond directly to Reliance’s JioPhone with a low-cost 4G feature phone of its own since it doesn’t want to subsidize and manage inventory. The telecom operator will instead intensify its bundling deals and expects manufacturers to release more feature handsets with support for 2G, 3G, and 4G.
It’s not clear whether Airtel will switch tactics for its future schemes. The brand has tied up with various device makers to bundle offers to consumers, but none of those were exclusive to it. Reliance’s JioPhone scheme is more reminiscent of carrier practices in the US where one has to sign a contract with an operator for a set amount of years.
Interestingly, Vittal stated that 3G may be on the way out in India. 4G is currently attracting more users and 2G is steady, leaving 3G out in the cold. However, he did clarify that Airtel had not taken a call on whether it would shut down its 3G network yet.