To roll out services during July-Sept in 3 States

Boost for broadband

Project is on private-public partnership model.

SOMA will also invest in providing technology to BSNL.

Initially, the service will be offered on PC and laptops.

Thomas K. Thomas

New Delhi, Jan. 24 State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd has chosen the US-based SOMA Networks to deploy the world’s largest mobile WiMax network in India.

The project is on a private- public partnership model wherein SOMA will also invest in providing the technology to BSNL. The revenue will be shared between the two companies.

As per the deal SOMA will roll out mobile WiMax across three States — Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh — to provide wireless broadband coverage to nearly 200 million people over the next 3 years. Prior to this, the largest mobile WiMax project was the one announced by Sprint-Nextel, aimed at providing coverage to 100 million people in the US. This will be the first deployment of mobile WiMax version based on standard 802.16e in India.

Mr Jatinder Ahuja, Managing Director, SOMA Networks India, told Business Line, “Once the service is commercially launched, consumers will be able to get wireless broadband access at a minimum speed of 256 kbps. The advantage of wireless broadband is that it allows subscribers to get access to the Internet wherever they are within a State as long as they carry the modem with them. While initially the service is being launched for PC and laptop owners, SOMA is planning to make it available on mobile handsets by early next year.”

The wireless technology will also allow BSNL to roll out its broadband services faster. However, since WiMax modems are still on the expensive side, subscribers may find it more cost-effective to rent the modem from BSNL. The service is expected to be launched in the third quarter this year. While the tariffs are yet to be decided, Mr Ahuja said that it will be comparable to fixed line DSL-based broadband services which is available for as low as Rs 200 a month at present.

Mobile WiMax is being touted as the technology that will give a big boost to broadband in India. The Government is yet to announce the guidelines for WiMax services.

“This project confirms our view that the potential for WiMAX is mainly in emerging countries where wired infrastructure is poor or even non-existent, and where fixed broadband penetration is consequently very low. In such markets, wireless solutions represent the only economic alternative to deliver broadband services to the mass market. This explains our forecast that 46 per cent of WiMAX users in 2011 will be located in the Asia-Pacific region,” said an analyst’s report from OVUM.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 25, 2008)
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