The tension was palpable in the meeting room. It was a Monday, in mid-2017, and telco Reliance Jio was in a weekly meeting with technology partner Samsung at the former’s headquarters in Navi Mumbai, India. Samsung was delayed in fine-tuning its network machinery to beam mobile signals. At tens of thousands of spots.
The meeting was chaired by the head of the technology division at Jio, tasked with a clear mandate from promoter Mukesh Ambani—achieve 99% network coverage as quickly as possible. “This has to be done,” the chair thundered. Soon after, Samsung India put together a new team of experienced engineers to see it through. And voila, a few months in, the job was done.
The stern chair in question was Jagbir Singh, Jio’s then-group chief technology officer (CTO), and the man Ambani trusted to rollout his Rs 3.5 lakh crore (~$47.5 billion) pan-India 4G network. Following this stint, in mid-2018, Singh—a 55-year-old from the north Indian state of Haryana—joined Indonesia's no. 5 telco Indonesia's no. 5 telco Frost & Sullivan Digital Market Overview: Indonesia Read more , Smartfren. Smartfren is owned by one of the country’s largest conglomerates, the Sinar Mas Group. Singh has also served as CTO at Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications. It’s almost as though he’s covered the entire spectrum of Indian telco, and beyond.
And now he’s made it to Vodafone Idea. On 2 November, the third-largest operator third-largest operator The Ken Callateral damage: The far-reaching consequences of Vodafone Idea going bust Read more in India appointed Singh as CTO, to take its 4G coverage in 16 priority circles to 90% by March 2022, as against 83% in March this year. Vodafone Idea rebranded as ‘Vi’ in September, after the apex court allowed it staggered payment of dues of over Rs 50,000 crore (~$6.7 billion) over a ten year period. The company owes the government as the Supreme Court upheld the Department of Telecom’s comprehensive definition of revenue-sharing agreement called adjusted gross revenue or AGR adjusted gross revenue or AGR Indian Express Explained: How will telecom firms pay their AGR dues over the next 10 years? Read more that includes non-telco revenues.
Singh’s appointment comes at a time when the operator’s subscriber base has shrunk to 271.8 million from ~400 million at the time of the Vodafone-Idea merger in 2018. Analysts attribute this quarter-on-quarter subscriber churn to poor network quality and Vi’s low capital expenditure (capex) at Rs 10,130 crore ($1.3 billion), against Bharti’s Rs 25,359 crore (~$3.4 billion) in the year ended March 2020.