Variety

Waiting in the wings

RAJESH KURUP | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 11, 2012

EW12_AIRTEL

Two years on, operators are still weighing their 4G services options.

Eric Yu vouches strongly for 4G, a data-centric technology that is slowly spreading its wings in India, but has failed to evoke much enthusiasm from the operators.

The launch of 4G, or technically Long Term Evolution (LTE), is a telecommunications standard for high-speed wireless data access. In a country with more than 1 billion population and about 950 million telephone connections, surprisingly just six operators have evinced interest in rolling out the services.

“The technology is just being rolled out, it's a new technology. I have strong faith in the technology, as it permits faster data access,” Eric Yu, president, enterprise business at Huawei Telecommunications (India) said.

Bharti Airtel, which won spectrum (radio waves) in 2010, is the only company to offer 4G services, even though five other players have launched commercial services in two circles, Bangalore and Kolkata. Huawei, a supplier of telecom equipment to global majors, was the also vendor for Airtel’s 4G operations in Bangalore.

The 4G launch is almost simultaneous as in the US and European nations.



SITTING ON THE FENCE



However, five other operators – Infotel Broadband, Aircel, Tikona Digital Networks, Qualcomm and Augere Broadband – who had won broadband wireless spectrum in 2010, are sitting on the fence.

According to Anupam Vasudev, Chief Marketing Officer, Aircel, the ecosystem for LTE still has to develop before operators can start offering 4G in a meaningful way.

“3G, with a developed ecosystem, itself is struggling so 4G has some catching up to do. No doubt it fits in with the strategy to grow data services it will take 2-3 years before the technology matures,” Vasudev said, adding “launches that have already happened in the market have not been very encouraging.”

He, however, did not reveal Aircel's (which has licences for eight circles) strategy, while the company had earlier said that it would launch the services by 2012-end.

The Mumbai-based Internet service provider, Tikona Digital, which holds licences for five circles, would also launch services by the end of the year or early next year. While there is not clarity on Qualcomm’s or wireless broadband services provider Augere plans, the market is rife with talks of Infotel Broadband close to launching the services.



INFOTEL’S DISRUPTIVE STRATEGY

Infotel Broadband, which was later acquired by Reliance Industries, is yet to announce the launch dates. However, analysts and industry experts expect the commercial launch by end of 2012 or sometime in early 2013.

The company, according to reports, has plans to introduce a cheap LTE tablet priced at Rs 3,500 (about $60) in the Indian market. It has also believed to have tied up with Datawind for the production of these tablets.

“This, however, could create a turbulence in the market. The low price of the devices, cheap data plans and a planned nation-wide deployment would be disruptive trend for the existing 3G service providers,” Gartner Principal Research Analyst Rishi Tejpal said.

This is because 3G operators have paid huge amounts for spectrum acquisition and infrastructure as it will be difficult for them to compete at the price levels that Reliance might offer.

“Telecom services are highly spectrum (radio waves) dependant. In case of 3G, spectrum availability is limited, with only 5 MHz being released for the services and there is no clarity on possible 3G auctions in the near future,” Tejpal said, adding, at least 20 MHz spectrum has been earmarked for 4G services.

According to a Mumbai-based analyst, Infotel Broadband’s plans to launching services across 22 circles could make a leading player in 4G space. This could be impact Bharti Airtel drastically, as it has license only for four circles.

Airtel has initially priced its multimode dongle at Rs 7,999, and later slashed cost by nearly 40 per cent and also provided monthly cash back offers equivalent to the cost of device. This makes the device free at the customer’s end.

CHANGE IN TELECOM DYNAMICS

According to a report by Gartner, mass-scale consumer adoption of LTE in India would happen beyond 2013-2014.

“Higher speed and accessibility would enable users to stay connected for more periods, in turn, increasing data-based revenues of operators,” IMImobile’s Alluri said.

Tejpal concurs, and adds that the device eco-system has to mature and handsets and devices should become affordable.

The industry and experts believe that LTE will change the Indian telecom industry dynamics and help operators to build a strong foothold in the market. However, launch of the services by companies is what keeps this technology at bay, at least for the time being.

USAGE

“I will call it higher bandwidth… This is kind of laying a super express highway. The 4G services will enable transferring of high-end images and video over super-fast telecom networks, and obviously this would usher in another revolution in the telecom space,” Vishwanath Alluri, Chief Executive Officer at IMImobile, a mobile-based data services provider, said.

“To my understanding, the technology can be put to tremendous applications like providing rural education, healthcare and video surveillance among others to begin with,” Alluri added.

Video calls (person to person) or videoconferencing (multiple users), streaming video (watching live television over mobile devices) are some of the applications these services would provide. LTE will offer affordable high-speed broadband and voice services, and will also address the low broadband penetration in the country.

In the urban areas, 4G would be used for offering data-intensive applications such as interactive TV services, pay TV platforms (such as Direct-To-Home), high-data video downloads and even basic connectivity to residential customers, especially in under-served and un-served areas.

SPEED IS THE KEY

“It’s the speed that matters as 4G services enable much faster access compared with 3G,” Gartner’s Tejpal said.

With data download speeds soaring up to 100 MBPS and uplinking speeds of upto 50 MBPS, 4G services are much faster than 3G. On 3G networks, the download speeds are at a mere 14.4 MBPS and uplink speeds of 5.7 MBPS.

According to Jaideep Ghosh, Partner at KPMG India: “For an average customer, 4G means faster Internet access in terms of downloading web pages, music, games, applications, and streaming videos.”

But there are people who beg to differ.

“It’s not easy to make 4G successful in India as average user would be still comfortable with voice services. However, enterprise services, like the ones planned by Infotel, 4G would be a successful medium,” Jagannathan Thunuguntla, Equity Head at brokerage firm SMC Capitals, said.

Now to weigh the importance of 4G, the industry has to wait at least till the end of the year.

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Published on October 11, 2012
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