Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal shares 4G network challenges in India

Telecom Lead @ Mobile World Congress 2013:
Bharti Airtel chairman
Sunil Mittal — who demanded $50 smartphones in 2012 — has shared 4G network challenges in India.

Indian operators — Airtel is the #1 telecom player — will be forced to unveil both TD-LTE and FD-LTE 4G services in coming years. Since cost effective smartphones are not available on both bands, challenge is to attract customers. Airtel has around 20,000 LTE users from its launch in Kolkata, Bangalore and Pune.

READ Sunil Mittal’s keynote address at Mobile World Congress 2012 HERE

Airtel’s 4G challenges is an outcome of poor standardization in the world. For example, TD-LTE is driven out of China — mainly China Mobile. China Mobile and Alcatel-Lucent announced a new lightRadio Metro Radio.

Available now for large-scale commercial deployment in China Mobile’s first trial TD-LTE network, which spans 13 cities in China, lightRadio Metro Radio will bring high-performance 4G services to residents in densely populated areas of Shanghai, Nanjing and Qingdao, three of the fastest growing cities in China and indeed the world.

Operators need cost effective networks. If several countries are looking for several network bands, cost is bound to increase.

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal

Despite issues, Airtel — which would offer voice services to 4G users using GSM network — will continue to unveil services in other towns as well. Launch in both Chandigarh and Delhi is in the pipeline.

Earlier, Airtel India CEO Sanjay Kapoor said Airtel has an ARPU of $20 from LTE and it is growing. $20 may not be enough in the short terms. ARPU will grow if cost effective phones and dongles are available in India. Though priced above Rs 40,000 — which is not affordable to masses — BlackBerry Z10, a 4G phone, does not support TD-LTE but FD-LTE.

Sunil Mittal says that Airtel is committed to TD-LTE. “We are looking at, in the not too distant future, using FDD as well, at 1800MHz.”

READ Mobile World Congress 2013 HERE

In a 2011 note, TRAI said the price of 1800 MHz band should be between 1.5 to 2.67 times of that of price of 2100 MHz band. Further, the price of 900 MHz band should be between 2.5 to 2.67 times of that of 1800 MHz spectrum price.

The main reasons for suggesting the above include the following: The relative number of base stations required for pan-India coverage to provide a similar QoS experience to end customer in 1800 MHz band is 2.8 times than that in 900 MHz band.

Speaking at the GTI LTE TDD/FDD International Summit 2013, Sunil Mittal said: “India is a country which can ill-afford expensive networks. My ARPUs are going to be sub-$10. And I can’t afford, therefore, heavy investment in infrastructure which is not efficient.”

TD-LTE has its own issues. In the 2.3GHz band, the network coverage is a series issue. “Though the 20MHz of spectrum it has is generous compared to the allocations for 2G and 3G technologies, 20MHz is again going to pose the same challenges for us in India, some way down the road, as with 2G and 3G spectrum,” Mittal added.

In 2013, companies such as Videocon, Reliance Industries, Aircel and expected to join the 4G bandwagon.

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