LTE in India through BWA spectrum route will materialize by 2012 only

Almost two years after winning BWA spectrum, successful bidders are expected to roll out BWA services in India by early 2012.

However, post repeated debates on whether the spectrum will be used to launch WiMax or LTE, the argument seems to be slowly, but surely closing in, in favour of LTE.

According to recent reports, US chipmaker Qualcomm, which won BWA spectrum in four circles in India, is set to launch LTE services by the year-end or by the first half of next year, and has almost finalized its Indian partner for the venture, to fulfill its strategy of giving the Indian operator control of its LTE reins and then exiting the venture.

Speaking to an Indian daily, Kanwalinder Singh, president, Qualcomm India and South Asia, said, We have accelerated the ecosystem and convinced all the infrastructure vendors that they should implement 3G in a way that LTE is an upgrade. Every vendor from ZTE to Ericsson to Nokia Siemens, Huawei has equipment to enable LTE upgrade. On the devices side we expect go commercial with our multimode chipsets within the next couple of months and then devices, beginning with dongles, will start rolling out from late 2011 or early 2012,” he said.
Last month, DoT had said that it would invite bids from mobile phone companies, fixed line operators and ISPs in June to fulfill its aim of a national wireless broadband network, to help bridge the urban-rural divide. The format for the bidding would provide one spot in each of the 22 telecom circles to a private player, while the second slot is reserved for BSNL, who would need to match the price quoted by private bidders.  

According to TRAI’s March 2011 figures, India currently has 11. 21 million broadband connections – a figure which has been targeted to reach 100 million by 2014. With current mobile connections pegged at 826.93 million the only way forward for India to reach its ambitious broadband targets is with the help of mobile broadband, which is expected to see a leap with 3G networks, that can in turn be upgraded to 4G or LTE.

Taking this view forward, at the recently concluded LTE India 2011 conference, Mallikarjuna Rao, CTO, Aircel said, India could lead LTE-TD broadband technology developments, as there is a lot of competence in this area returning to India from outside. It is an opportunity for India to telescope change but the technology would support only four or five operators provided they have a pan India reach.” 
LTE or 4G would be a smooth transition using core set up of the 2G/3G networks. While worldwide trials for LTE began in 2010, there have already been18 launches globally with 208 network commitments. Ericsson, NSN and Huawei have already conducted successful LTE field trials in India and have made their India networks LTE-ready, as and when operations are launched in the country.
With mass adoption, lowest cost per bit, highest capacity, best user experience and a true global standard, the world is stepping into 4G, expecting 380 million LTE subscribers and 80 plus LTE networks by 2015,” said Sujit Bakre, head of 4G business development at NSN.

Warning that India could not afford to miss the universal broadband coverage, Rajan S Mathews, director-general of COAI feels that auction is not the best way for the national imperative move forward, as it was shifting a vast amount of resources from the private sector to the government sector and to restore the balance of dynamism in the spread of mobile broadband it was necessary to bring that money back in the service of the spread and reach of the telecom-broadband networks. 

RIL has been making significant progress in its broadband efforts, which are believed to be in favour of LTE. According to a recent report by Kotak Institutional Equities, RIL may even consider acquiring RCOM to broaden its broadband horizons.

We are already working towards TDD LTE, and have partnered with Rancore Technologies for the same. We will be the first to launch TD-LTE in India, if it happens. Presently operators are providing 3G, but this has the challenge of backhaul provisioning of the BTS, and flat architecture of LTE will be a nightmare if launched with the present architecture. Some of the other challenges hindering LTE launch are in-building penetration, regulatory norms, and buildings blocking the way of BTS.

However,LTE with its unmatched speed and latency, providing a 5,000 terabyte download in the next two years, can help India to achieve its target of 250 million mobile broadband subscribers by 2015, from the current meager 7-8 percent
mobile Internet penetration rate. In addition, thanks to its interoperability
with 3G, instead of launching all-India LTE, LTE can be launched only in areas
where data consumption is high, and 3G can remain in the rest of the country,”
explained Arun Kumar Gupta, CTO, RCOM.

Recently, the DoT said that it would ask for an additional 100 MHz spectrum from various ministries, including defence that may
generate Rs 80,000 crore revenues for the government if the price of 3G auction
last year is taken as a base.

DoT will put up this demand before the empowered group of ministers, headed by FM Pranab Mukherjee, which is expected to meet in the next one month.
The initial vacation of 150 MHz of spectrum in the 1,700-2,000 Mhz band for commercial use has proven insufficient to meet the growing requirements of 2G and 3G services, calling for additional spectrum of 80-100 MHz is also required, for expanding mobile services, including mobile broadband. According to GSMA,mobile broadband can generate Rs 3,146 billion to India’s GDP by 2020.

 According to TRAI, the total requirement of spectrum in the next five years would amount to approximately 500-800 MHz, including 275 MHz for voice services alone. However, the availability of spectrum is only
about 287 to 450 MHz.

The additional spectrum will no doubt be a boost for data services, bringing India a step closer to LTE, which is the technology of the future, already in the process of being deployed in the rest of the world.

By Beryl M

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