Competition is fierce and spectrum is short, Reliance Jio spent $20B, built one of the best networks in the world, and gained 100M customers in the first year. Mukesh Ambani's aggressive plans for the 4G $20 (refundable) feature phone will probably add 100M more in the next year or so. Hundreds of millions of Indians are still on 2G. Ambani is ready to spend $B+ in subsidies to bring them to Jio 4G.
Giant Tata is closing their #4 mobile network, putting 10,000 out of work, writing off billions, and selling off cheaply to Bharti.. #5 Reliance Communications, Ambani's brother's company, is likely to follow. They couldn't compete in the price war. Vodafone and Idea, #2 & #3, are merging to stay alive
#1 Bharti's strategy in response includes a huge build of Massive MIMO, just announced. Danish Khan now reports the other two likely survivors, Jio and Vodafone/Idea, will also do Massive.
They are likely to move quickly and bring India ahead of China and, Japan, and the U.S. Ericsson is hoping for the contracts but for now Huawei and ZTE are in the lead.
More antennas, more cells/towers, and more spectrum are the primary tools for capacity. Every situation is different. CTOs have to decide the right combination. Traffic growth is slowing down - see Cisco - but is still substantial.
The short term strategy at nearly every carrier from Thailand to Kenya to the U.S. is moving to "Gig LTE." It has become a cheap upgrade on existing towers. (Customer throughput typically will be a quarter gig or less, not a gig ) That provides all most carriers need and more than they can sell. Beyond that:
Results vary with terrain, but on average the MIMO doubles capacity, spectrum doubles again, and the more efficient 256 QAM coding adds another quarter or so. That's a 5X improvement, enough to carry most to 2020-2022.
If that's not enough, especially if spectrum is short, 64 antenna Massive MIMO is usually the cheapest way to do more. Only Verizon is moving fast on small cells; they want the competitive advantage of 5G high speeds
- Cells: Verizon is the only confirmed large 5G small cell deployment. It's very expensive.The technology is so new Verizon has to do pioneering engineering to make it work. Many other telcos are adding 4G small cells they will upgrade to 5G where they need capacity but the total number worldwide is relatively modest. Small cells can be efficiently targeted to where demand is greatest, Indian carriers have limited capital.
- Spectrum: It is actually in excess supply at most carriers, despite all the shortage talk. AT&T has 60 MHz free, enough to more than double capacity. India is the important exception. For historical reasons, it has relatively few towers. China, with about the same population, has about twice as many.
- Antennas: 64 antenna Massive MIMO is deploying by the thousands at China Mobile and Softbank Japan, traditional technology leaders. Both have spectrum above 2.5 GHz, ideal for today's TDD MM. So does Sprint, owned by Softbank. Most carriers use lower frequencies and need FDD spectrum. FDD Massive MIMO is about a year behind TDD and probably less efficient.
Spectrum for political reasons has been very short in India. The recent auctions helped a great deal, but the telcos chose not to buy the expensive 700 MHz band. Bharti has been adding towers furiously. Jio is rapidly raising coverage from 80+% to 95%. That's very expensive. A large small cell build would be costly.
Japan and China have shown Massive MIMO works so it is the natural choice for India.