Ushering in 4G Services Is India Ready?

Understanding the Need Why 4G
In today’s internet powered age there is an increasing shift from voice to data centric services. Newer, richer and more customized content is being demanded albeit without affecting the user experience. Add the fact that the Indian Telecom consumer base is growing at a phenomenal rate and we begin to understand the need for greater, faster and more efficient forms of delivery. 4G technology attempts to answer this call by enabling greater data throughput and lower latency by moving to a fully IP based system. 4G designs based on OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) air interface, utilizing Smart Antenna techniques and Adaptive Processing Technology on a common IP core are expected to be scalable and more compatible while enabling greater interoperability and convergence of mobile and fixed broadband networks.
Currently, WiMAX and LTE are the two principal mobile broadband platforms that have evolved under the 4G umbrella with each platform bringing its own distinct set of advantages to the table. While LTE is in the trial phase, WiMAX is a relatively mature technology and available for adoption within a much shorter timeframe.   Transition to WiMAX is expected to be cost lower and hence may be the technology of choice initially however; LTE would also see growth due to greater acceptability among operators and equipment manufacturers. Operators will need to evaluate them on several parameters in order to make a cost effective technology selection.
Is 4G technology economically viable?
India’s rapidly growing mobile market is increasingly being driven by a young, dynamic and vibrant population on a diet of internet and social networking. The spurt of mobile based applications, games, video and other data heavy content means that ARPU’s are being driven upward constantly. Falling prices of smart phones and other devices are further fuelling the demand. All this means that there is a very good case for driving in technologies which offer higher data throughput rates, reduce latency to improve user experience and better utilize scarce spectrum. Factors like scalability and interoperability will further boost returns and reduce usage costs.
Some of the key elements driving 4G adoption are likely to be:
1.      Need for ubiquitous mobile access and converged services
2.      Quality of Experience Requirements demanded by the user
3.      Scalability of infrastructure and interoperability of network elements
4.      Software Independence
5.      Evolution of user devices & applications ecosystem
Analysts predict that a combination of Capex reduction measures like infrastructure sharing and leasing, optimizing Network Operations costs through better utilization of spectrum and increased monetization of end services will present operators with healthy return on investments.

What will it take for successful 4G adoption?
While most analysts seem to suggest that the economics of 4G deployment are sound, user adoption will depend on a multitude of factors such as:
1.      Continuing growth in volumes through increasing mobile subscriber base and competitive bundling and pricing by service providers
2.      Device Proliferation spurred by standards based designs, open IPR environments, commitments from chipset manufacturers and interest from consumer electronics manufacturers
3.      Establishment of a global ecosystem of manufacturers to leverage economies of scale and bring down device and equipment costs
4.      Continued development of applications and features by an expanding developer community to bring greater content to the user
While recent trends indicate a definite push by the global community towards 4G, it is still some years away from adoption. WiMAX by dint of being ahead on the evolution curve than LTE may see greater initial adoption but it is expected that LTE would be the eventual choice due to its greater applicability and support within the telecom ecosystem.  
Benefits to Stakeholders
4G deployment will create an edge for several stakeholders given the multitude of opportunities and possibilities it opens up. Not only will it enable the service provider ecosystem to push greater and newer offerings to previously inaccessible subscribers, it will also help open up new economic opportunities for them. At the macro level, the mass adoption of 4G services will spread productivity and economic growth to a much larger and more receptive audience. It may also push through several government initiatives and schemes in health, education and governance.
For end users, 4G opens up a whole plethora of opportunities by reducing operating costs, improving reliability and enhancing security. Affordable value added services and high speed connectivity on the go is expected to create a connected community with much stronger economic integration.
Challenges and Concerns
Of course, as with any new technology, there are several risk factors that may hamper a successful adoption in the Indian context. Some of the key ones are
1.      Government Policy Guidelines on Spectrum and deployment: Governmental guidelines and regulations pertaining to spectrum allocation and pricing are yet to be firmed up and these will be critical for operators to put forth a strong business case for deployment.
2.      Availability of Infrastructure: 4G deployment will lead to strong competition between operators for installing active infrastructure and a demand supply mismatch may lead to significant cost escalations
3.      Device Development: While the prices of devices will fall in the long term, they will need to decline significantly to enable mass adoption across the country. The success of 4G services in semi urban and rural parts of the country will hinge on the price levels that device manufacturers are able to offer in the near future.
4.      Development of Content: While 4G deployment would enable delivery, content developers and agencies must plan in advance to fully leverage the opportunities opened up by the service providers.
The success of 4G will depend upon how the ecosystem fares on these and other challenges in front of them. An effective strategy backed by watertight planning and firm implementation will be the key to adoption and subsequent expansion of services.
Conclusion
It is thus quite clear that there is a strong case for the development of 4G services in the Indian context. The exponential growth in the upwardly mobile populace and the subsequent demands placed by them on communications medium will mean that 3G will evolve into 4G in the coming years. The value that such a deployment will unlock both in terms of business opportunities for operators to social objectives of the government will justify investments.  However, careful planning and prudent policies will be required to unlock the potential represented by 4G services.
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