In the last three years of 3G, Indian mobile broadband users never got a chance to experience better quality of service (QoS).
Top telecom service providers such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular, etc. earlier maintained that lack of 3G spectrum and their earlier investment in license fees were the stumbling blocks in offering better QoS.
Many Indian mobile broadband users do not depend on 3G connection if they are using it for critical purposes. 3G connection is still not meant for uninterrupted services.
“I take 4-5 hours to upload an 8 minute video using my 3G data card. Since the 3G connection is not seamless, I am forced to upload again if I lose the connection in between,” said an analyst.
3G is gaining momentum because 4G is yet to kick off in a big way in India. But telecoms are taking their own time to accept the market demands. But they have lowered the 3G tariffs to offer it as a mass product. Rapid growth in Indian tablets and smartphones are fuelling the demand for mobile broadband services.
Poor 3G Coverage
Look at some of the telecom statistics that suggests mobile broadband network quality is important to growth business.
Bharti Airtel’s data revenue contribution is around 9.2 percent (7.4 percent) to total revenue in the second quarter of fiscal 2014. It has 26,616 (grown from 25,604) 3G sites to serve 8 million 3G subscribers (6.8 million).
Vodafone India has 15,500 3G sites to manage its 4.5 million 3G users (2.1 million).
Idea Cellular has 18,031 (17,031) 3G sites to handle its 3G users.
Idea Cellular, which has earmarked Rs 3,500 crore as Capex for fiscal 2014, generates 8.7 percent revenue from data. Airtel gets 9.2 percent revenue from data business.
This shows the need for additional investment in 3G networks to support their mobile broadband revenue growth.
Tips to improve mobile broadband network quality
In the Networked Society, mobile broadband traffic is heavy and user expectations are high. To prepare networks for surging traffic demand, network performance and customer experience are paramount.
Telecom 0perators should improve and densify their existing mobile broadband networks and add small cells in an optimal way. To provide the right broadband speed and quality, operators need to deploy heterogeneous networks.
A heterogeneous network – based on a single-vendor, 3GPP-standardized and coordinated radio network with integrated Wi-Fi, advanced traffic management and high-performance backhaul – can help deliver a consistent, high-quality and seamless mobile broadband experience.
Also to obtain maximum value from the radio spectrum, operators will need flexible base-station site solutions that allow for ideal placement of the radio site. They may need to consider alternatives for site location by connecting with new partners such as municipalities, retailers and external agencies rather than traditional deals made with landlords and tower-approval committees. In metropolitan areas, complementing an already-dense macro network with additional small cells at street level, needs to be implemented using small antennas in such a way that equipment is almost invisible.
“A successful operator will leverage its proven 3GPP infrastructure and terminal base, while improving, densifying and adding to the macro infrastructure to meet surging traffic demand. Ericsson provides high-capacity heterogeneous networks and is paving the way towards highly effective ways to deploy and manage dense radio-access networks,” said Derek Long, head of Communication Services and MBB, Ericsson India.
The biggest challenge operators are facing is to handle capacity without increasing Opex. There are quite a number of things operators can look into and typically they will need to employ a mix of these to boost capacity, coverage and quality.
“For a start, they can look at network densification. They could do this by adding more cell sites especially in crowded urban areas but this is usually difficult and expensive. In this case, it can be very effective for operators to deploy small cells to increase capacity,” said Pankaj Gandhi, director – Wireless, CommScope India and SAARC.
Operators can replace large cell sites in crowded urban areas with several smaller cell sites using distributed coverage solutions and cell sculpting. By shrinking and/ or breaking the size of each cell, operators can support more users per square mile. That means fewer blocked calls and more consistent data speeds in dense Indian metro cities.
Demands of telecom operators
Vodafone India has invested Rs 1908 crore as Capex in the second quarter of fiscal 2014. This is significantly lower than any of the American telecom giants.
Despite significant decrease in Capex by telecoms such as Airtel, telecom vendors such as Ericsson, NSN, Alcatel-Lucent, ZTE, Huawei, etc. are gearing up to assist mobile service providers in their transition to focus on mobile broadband.
Ericsson’s priority will be working with operators to manage this transition period by helping them deliver a superior mobile mroadband experience, managing Opex costs and improving customer experience and monetizing data.
“Using the features and flexibility of our advanced billing systems on prepaid and postpaid, we assist operators to monetize their heavily invested data networks. We have operator support solutions to increase revenues through a customer enriched experience via the service quality measurement and assurance techniques,” Ericsson’s Long said.
The mix of CommScope sales is switching from 2-port antennas to support single frequency to multi band and multi-ports. This clearly indicates the need to manage capacity at already congested towers. CommScope is seeing increasing interest in multiplexing filters for co-siting solutions that allow handling of multiple technologies on single RF path.
Broadband spectrum crunch
As elsewhere in the world, operators in India are looking for ways to find more spectrum to use for mobile broadband services. This may require operators to consider migrating services to alternative frequency bands due to spectrum availability constraints.
“Hence our priority is on ensuring multi standard radio networks which enable operator flexibility in the deployment of new Mobile Broadband capacity and the possibility to redeploy capacity to alternative services at a later date,” Ericsson’s Derek Long said.
A large part of India is yet to be penetrated by mobile broadband. As smart devices are becoming rapidly cheaper, their increased penetration will increase data consumption, as well as the requirement to spread coverage into increasingly suburban, residential and rural areas. Nevertheless the voice market is still big, providing a significant proportion of operator’s revenue. Therefore, in the search for additional mobile broadband spectrum, there will continue to be a search for ever smarter use of spectrum for voice services.