Bharti Airtel Ltd is set to become the first operator in the country to launch fourth generation (4G) technology based services.

The company will launch its Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE-TDD - a 4G technology) network in Kolkata later this month, according to Bharti's CEO - India and SAARC, Mr Sanjay Kapoor.

Bharti had won broadband spectrum in four circles: Punjab, Maharashtra, Kolkata and Karnataka.

China's ZTE Corp is the network vendor partner for the Kolkata circle. Bharti had earlier awarded the Maharashtra circle deal to Nokia Siemens Networks. The operator is also planning to launch LTE in Pune in Maharashtra, Chandigarh in Punjab and Bangalore in Karnataka soon.

Besides Bharti, the other winners of the broadband auction held in 2010 are Reliance Industries Ltd, Tikona Digital Networks Pvt. Ltd, Aircel Ltd, Augere and Qualcomm Inc. So far only Augere has awarded a contract to Ericsson and have announced plans to launch services in the second half of this year.

But the big launch is expected from Reliance, which is the only player with pan-India spectrum for 4G services. LTE-based 4G services will enhance data speeds considerably from existing levels.

However, the big concern at present is the availability of handsets and devices that support the technology.

According to Wireless Intelligence, with an average retail price of $500, the cost of an LTE smartphone is four times the average monthly GDP per capita in India, and at an average of $200, the retail price of an LTE USB dongle is twice an Indian's monthly income on average

Second largest broadband market

India will become the second largest mobile broadband market globally with 367 million connections by 2016, according to the GSM Association.

In doing so, India will overtake the US, which will account for 337 million mobile broadband connections, but will still be second to China, which would have reached 639 million in the same period.

According to the global GSM industry body, there are now more than 10 million 3G connections across the country, and this is expected to grow exponentially to more than 100 million connections in 2014.

“This will make India the largest High Speed Packet Access (HSPA- a 3G technology) market worldwide within the next two years, surpassing China, Japan and the US in the process,” GSMA said.

Ms Anne Bouverot, Director-General of the GSMA, said the Government should facilitate the timely release of additional spectrum in a fair and transparent way for all stakeholders.

tkt@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 3, 2012)
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