Telenor to complete 4G rollout by end-March 2017, considers exit from India

11 Apr 2016

Norwegian-owned cellco Telenor India is aiming to roll out 4G services to its six active circles by the end of March 2017, the Economic Times reports, citing CEO Sharad Mehrotra. To that end, the operator has awarded Chinese vendor Huawei an INR12.4 billion (USD185.9 million) contract to modernise all 25,000 of its base stations. 7,000 of its sites have already been made LTE-ready and the cellco has commercially launched 4G services in Varanasi. The launch of 4G marks the cellco’s first foray into the high speed data segment, as Telenor opted not to purchase spectrum for 3G services and its 1800MHz spectrum holdings are poorly suited for LTE. Mr Mehrotra acknowledged that whilst the data sector will be crucial for future growth, the bulk of Telenor’s 4G customers will be first-time data users. As its user base becomes more familiar with the technology, however, Telenor will need to improve its services to meet growing demand and customer expectations. Consequently, the official added that Telenor was ‘looking at [the] spectrum auction very closely’. Further, to encourage take-up, Telenor is looking to build up its portfolio of digital products as it overhauls its network.

Despite its 4G rollout plans, the Norwegian group is also reportedly considering exiting the Indian market. According to two people familiar with the matter, Telenor is looking to offload its Indian business for between USD1.6 billion and USD1.8 billion. The group’s decision to focus on profitability following the cancellation of its pan-India concessions in 2012 has limited its spending, leaving it trailing behind its larger rivals. Its reluctance to invest in expensive spectrum rights or expand beyond its existing six circles – it holds licences for a seventh area but has yet to launch there – has kept it from catching up with its long-standing competitors, representing less than 5% of the market at the end of December 2015.

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