News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

India's WiMAX/3G debate revisited

It does seem to be India week here on Developing Telecoms Watch. When I posted a link to this blog at the Mobile Consultants LinkedIn group, a member who has worked as an RF networks engineer for a number of the country's cellular operators was very keen to assert in response that his market is "the blue eyed baby for the [global] telecom sector nowadays and adding 8 million subs per month". In my respondent's view, interesting developments to look out for in India will include:
  • Site sharing to save OPEX and CAPEX, with "some operators [having] set annual targets of 50-60% incremental sharing".
  • As a result of looking at carried traffic and site utilization, "operators are taking a call to switch off some sites during night time to save OPEX".
  • Single billing systems for all services provided by an operator, such as mobile, DTH, data usage, IPTV etc.
  • Operators identifying common weak coverage areas and areas in high security zones - and planning single sites instead of deploying multiple sites in those areas.
  • Operators waiting for number portability "to be deployed ASAP to maximize their revenues".

I concluded Sunday's India-themed post by choosing to infer from a recent report by consultants BDA that there seems to be reasonable case for WiMAX and an even stronger one for 3G in India. Since then I've read articles in which the prospects for both are enthusiastically talked up.

Making the case for 3G, in an interview in an interview with Business Line yesterday was Mr P. Balaji, Ericsson India's VP of Marketing and Strategy. Balaji asserts that Indian operators will be able to roll out services with minimal additional infrastructure costs and that 3G will help to bridge the urban-rural digital divide. "Telemedicine, e-education and e-governance can be offered through 3G in rural pockets," says Ericsson's Balaji, "and this is bound to improve the quality of life of the people."

Asked how 3G stacks up against WiMAX, Balaji states "we believe the Government should leave it to the market forces and not dictate technology choices" and that in his opinion "3G will score in the Indian telecom market because it offers greater economies of scale, faster time to market and multiplicity of handsets".

This is not very surprising. Outlined in a white paper released last month, the Ericsson view of comparisons between WiMAX and HSPA can is as follows: "While the peak data rates, spectral efficiency and network architecture of HSPA Evolution and Mobile WiMAX are similar, HSPA offers better coverage. In short, Mobile WiMAX does not offer any technology advantage over HSPA. What is more, HSPA is a proven mobile broadband technology deployed in more than 100 commercial networks... [and] can be built out using existing GSM radio network sites and is a software upgrade of installed W-CDMA networks. Compared with other alternatives, HSPA is the clear and undisputed choice for mobile broadband services."

The Swedish vendor certainly seems to have lost enthusiasm for the IEEE 802.16 family of standards since making extremely positive noises when joining the WiMAX Forum in December 2004.

Feeling more upbeat about WiMAX in India is research and consulting house Strategy Analytics, whose recent study sees the country's WiMAX subscriber base hitting 14 million by Year 2013 and growing annually by nearly 130%. An Economic Times article on Saturday indicated that the Strategy Analytics report predicts initial investment in WiMAX ventures will top $500 million in India. The US-based research firm feel that after initial deployments primarily in major urban areas pockets, "WiMAX will find relatively greater utility and less competition from competing technologies in smaller towns and villages."

This last point seems to go head-to-head with the claims made by Ericsson's Balaji regarding his envisioned role for 3G networks in India's rural areas. I wonder who will turn out to be right? Or will it be a case of both being half-right?

Another thing for me to wonder about: I wonder if tomorrow will be the day when I finally managed to discuss something other than India's WiMAX and 3G prospects here...


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your interesting questions, facts, and projections. To add perspective: Gartner sees 737M mobile phones in India by 2012. So the projection, by Strategy Analytics, of 14M WiMAX mobile devices by 2013 is less than 5%. This is not so great given WiMAX's 'headstart'. Of course these are all just projections.

    Is there an economic powerhouse to propel WiMAX to greater market share? So far, I don't see it.


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