LTE route to 4G migration

G. Krishna Kumar | Updated on November 14, 2017 Published on March 20, 2011

Meaningful use of Internet is key challenge. Photo by Bijoy Ghosh   -  Business Line

G. Krishna Kumar

It is quite incredible that the 2G journey in India started 16 years ago and continues strong even today! While India has just started 3G launch, 4G is the buzz word in other parts of the world. India's regulatory authority TRAI is expected to come up with 4G recommendations later this year.

Where is the “True” 4G?

4G is perhaps the most misused term in the Wireless Industry. Basically, any technology that provides enhanced performance and capabilities compared with 3G is generally called 4G. In fact ITU (The International Telecommunication Union) recognises the lack of clarity in the term 4G and has determined LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAN-Advanced or WiMax 2 as “True” 4G. 4G technologies are expected to provide between 100Mbps and 1Gbps in stationary state. More action on 4G is expected over the next couple of years.

The popular LTE (Long term Evolution) and WiMax are way ahead of 3G in terms of data rates and would fit in as a 3.9G Technology. LTE, or more specifically LTE(FD), is a natural progression from 2G-GSM and 3G-WCDA and hence sure to be more popular compared with TD-LTE although TD-LTE is better in terms of spectral efficiency. TD-LTE is recognised by the ITU and is supported by China as an extension to its TDS-CDMA 3G technology.

Global LTE trends

The powerful GSMA (GSM Association), with over 800 telecom companies world-wide, is firmly backing LTE as the next major Mobile Broadband technology. LTE was first deployed by TeliaSonera in Sweden. There are 18 live LTE networks now including Verizon, NTT DoCoMo and further 184 deployments in the pipeline. Wireless Intelligence, a research firm, predicts that LTE, currently with over 3,50,000 connections, will cross 300 million connections world-wide by 2015. The Asia-Pacific region (excluding India) is expected to be leader in LTE connections with 24 per cent by 2015.

Global mobile trends indicate that minutes of usage for Internet access are twice as much as the talk time. A survey conducted by Comptel indicates that majority of mobile broadband users are willing to pay for a higher QoE (Quality of Experience). LTE is seen as an enabler of Mobile Cloud Computing (Cloud can be accessed by any Web-enabled device). Examples such as RCS (Rich Communication suite), multimedia streaming services such as TV, real-time high-resolution video conferencing can be achieved using LTE. LTE also supports inter-operability across 2G and 3G networks.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE), expected to hit the advanced countries some time in 2012, is an IP-based solution that ensures high-quality voice and video communication. US-based Verizon wireless successfully demonstrated a VoLTE call last month.

While LTE provides quite a few benefits, the deployment is heavily dependent on the availability of spectrum and regulatory framework. There are three possible spectrum scenarios for LTE deployment - 2.5 to 2.6GHz, the digital dividend spectrum in the 700Mhz and re-farming of existing spectrum. In fact, due to the spectral efficiency, LTE can pack in 1.5 to 5 times more subscribers compared with 3G in a cell for voice calls.

India's next generation Broadband options

Since 4G is far away right now, the only migration path for India is to take the LTE route. A recent McKinsey report states that only 1 per cent of India's subscribers are mobile-Internet users compared with 18 per cent in China. However, considering the demand for digital content, India's Internet users will increase fivefold by 2015 and more than 75 per cent of them will choose mobile access. Airtel adding over 5 lakh 3G subscribers in less than a month is certainly good news for 3G-based broadband access. However BWA WiMax uptake is still not clear.

BWA's guideline being technology-agnostic has helped Reliance-Infotel, which won pan-India licence to consider TD-LTE instead of the traditional WiMax route. This will intensify competition among the BWA providers in India.

But TD-LTE may take a couple of years to mature. With enormous support for TD-LTE from China, it is very likely that we could see TD-LTE based devices such as mobile phones, tablets, etc, rather than just data cards and USB dongles. Further, availability of dual-mode devices, TD-LTE and LTE/3G, would be key. TD-LTE could pose a threat to WiMax (BWA) and 3G.

For mobile broadband to pick up significantly, telecom companies/BWA operators need to come up with innovative pricing schemes to attract subscribers instead of the widely popular “sachet” pricing used for voice. Bundled devices with attractive contract terms through which the pre-paid segment can potentially be converted into post-paid.

The key challenge in India continues to be availability of a mobile-literate population that can make meaningful use of the Internet. It is not clear how the Government will handle the 700Mhz digital dividend spectrum, which is currently owned by Doordarshan. Interestingly, both I&B ministry and Telecom ministry are vying for this spectrum for Mobile TV and LTE, respectively. It is established that the 700MHz spectrum provides huge cost benefits compared with the 2.3 -2.5 GHz spectrum.

Among the Incumbent operators, whether it is allocation of new spectrum or re-farming of 2G spectrum, the Government should give preference to operators who, at a minimum, are a) efficient in their spectrum usage, b) provided over 90 per cent 3G/BWA coverage in all their operative circles and, most importantly, have demonstrated excellent quality of service to subscribers.

As we've seen, 4G certainly looks distant. However, India should rapidly increase mobile broadband customers using the current technologies in order to enable smooth transition to LTE over the next couple of years.

As pointed out, the key challenge is availability of affordable devices, relevant content, attractive data plans and mobile data “aware” population. It is imperative that the Government involves all the stake holders in propelling India's next generation mobile broadband journey.

The author is Director – Engineering, Teleca Software Solutions India. Views are personal

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Published on March 20, 2011
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