In an indication of improved coverage, the number of towers has gone up by almost 60 per cent in the last five years.
However, despite the launch of 4G and 5G services, the year-on-year addition of towers has not seen any significant sudden increase. Experts note that this is because there is only marginal deployment of 5G services at present; exponential growth in tower additions is likely to come next year.
According to the count of mobile towers provided on the Department of Telecommunications Dashboard, the four operators running the telecom network utilised 7.37 lakh towers and 23.7 lakh base stations as of November 2022.
Therefore, there has been a nearly 60 per cent increase and a 40 per cent increase in towers and BTS, respectively, since December 2017. Yearly, towers are being added at an approximately constant rate, with 45,000–55,000 year-on-year adds on the telecom tower side and 50,000–65,000 net adds on the BTS side.
As of December 17, the operators had cumulatively deployed a network comprising 4.61 lakh towers and 17.10 lakh BTS.
Leading up to the October 1, date for the deployment of 5G networks there was so significant uptick in the rate of deployment of towers and base stations according to these numbers.
A top executive for the tower industry explained it as follows: at present, the deployment of the 5G network is at an initial stage. 5G sites are being deployed from a market-testing perspective rather than end-to-end coverage in certain cities.
Once the deployment of the 5G network picks up steam, there will be an inflection in the growth rate, according to the executive.
TV Ramachandran, of the Broadband India Forum, said, “The deployment of additional towers for the past few years has been to make marginal additions to the 4G network. The rate of deployment is contingent on the availability of spectrum as well as the rate at which the subscriber base is growing. Good availability of 4G spectrum as well as a gradual increase in 4G subscribers are contributing to the constant growth rate seen as per these numbers.”
Another executive added that it is likely that the majority of the net additions are being conducted by Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, especially as Vodafone Idea and BSNL struggle to pay their network vendors.