Men make phone calls as they sit near Bharti Airtel billboards in Kolkata. Photo: Reuters

To save costs and improve user experience amid falling revenues and predatory competition, India’s largest mobile phone service provider Bharti Airtel Ltd is likely to shut down 3G service in next 3-4 years and tweak the spectrum linked with it for 4G services.

During an earnings call on Wednesday, Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO of Bharti Airtel for India and South Asia, said the company is investing in 4G technology to build more data capacity in the network. It will use 2100 megahertz band, which is used for 3G services, for 4G services. He said that in some telecom circles, the company has installed modern 3G equipment which can support 4G services, but the initially deployed equipment for 3G services will have to be replaced.

The entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd with its all 4G network in September last year has accelerated the end of 3G in India. The ubiquitous availability of cheap 4G-enabled devices has also made it easier for companies to plan a complete shift to a 4G-only network.

Indian operators had invested significantly in 3G network and spectrum from 2010 to 2015. Slow uptake of 3G in India means a lot of that investment has not been fully recovered. But due to intense pricing pressure, Indian operators will have to phase out 3G network well ahead of most countries in the world.

Globally, some operators such as Verizon and Telenor have considered shutting their 3G networks. However, this has happened in countries where 3G networks have been operational for a long period – about 15 years – and the operators have recovered costs.