Mumbai: Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), that has entered the Indian telecom space by buying Infotel Broadband Services Pvt. Ltd, which has a pan-India wireless broadband licence, may decide the winner in India of the war between two similar but rival technology standards—LTE and WiMAX. LTE and WiMAX are used for offering wireless broadband services.
While long-term evolution (LTE) is a progression of existing third-generation (3G) standards of the GSM mobile telephony platform, worldwide interoperability for microwave access (WiMAX) is based on wireless networking standards in the computer industry.
RIL has not clearly spelt out its choice of technology, but has given enough indications of its preference for LTE.
For instance, while announcing its acquisition of a 95% stake in Infotel, it said in its statement: “A single 20MHz TDD spectrum when used with LTE has the potential of providing greater capacity when compared with existing communication infrastructure in the country.” The statement made no reference to WiMAX.
TDD refers to time division duplexing, considered an efficient way of cramming signals into a given unit of radio waves or spectrum.
On Saturday, in its presentation to the analysts community, RIL went into details of how 110 operators in at least 48 countries have committed to rolling out broadband wireless services using LTE technology. “None of the private operators (in India) have spectrum assets that would match the capacity of Pan India LTE TDD 20MHz BWA spectrum,” it said.
Analysts expect RIL to go the LTE way.
“RIL left it open between TD-LTE and WiMAX, although we see chances of TD-LTE being the more likely technology choice,” noted analyst Shubham Majumdar with Macquarie Capital Securities (India) Pvt. Ltd, in a 14 June report on RIL’s entry into broadband services.
TD-LTE is a variant of LTE technology.
“If RIL chooses LTE, then other operators will have to follow suit as otherwise they may become isolated from an interoperability and roaming perspective,” said Nareshchandra Singh, principal research analyst at the Indian arm of technology researcher Gartner Inc.
RIL did not respond to Mint’s queries about choice of technology, but a company spokesperson directed this paper to the presentation made to the analysts on Saturday.
In India, where broadband penetration is less than 1% and the subscriber base is a mere nine million, a service provider’s choice of technology means mass market opportunities for makers of mobile telephony and personal computing devices or critical components that go into them.
Intel Corp. that makes electronic chips for WiMAX-enabled phones or laptops, has been backing WiMAX while Qualcomm Inc. that makes chips for LTE-enabled devices has been betting on LTE.
LTE is an evolution of existing GSM technology, the dominant standard in mobile telephony in India.
However, LTE is still an evolving technology, which means firms that make LTE-enabled equipment required by service providers as well as LTE-enabled handsets or laptops required by consumers are still at least 12 months away from making it commercially available in India.
Being an existing technology, WiMAX makes it easier for telecom operators to deploy services immediately.
NTT Docomo, one of the leading Japanese telecom service providers, is rolling out wireless broadband using LTE in December. Japan has 95% broadband penetration.
Sweden and Norway have commercially rolled out LTE technology, but analysts say the scale of operations in these countries is not comparable with India.
Qualcomm had entered the broadband spectrum auctions in India “to demonstrate and encourage the adoption” of LTE for such services, according to the firm. It won the rights to offer broadband services in four circles (as service areas are called in India) including Delhi and Mumbai for $1.04 billion (Rs4,846 crore).
“LTE is better suited for conditions in India, especially for providing broadband services outside urban India,” said Kanwalinder Singh, president, Qualcomm India and South Asia, and senior vice-president of Qualcomm.
Singh said Qualcomm would tie-up with an Indian partner, possibly an existing telecom operator, to prove the suitability of LTE technology.
The WiMAX Forum, a lobby that has been promoting use of the technology, says WiMAX is the easy option in terms of quick roll out.
“If an operator has paid that much money for the spectrum, they need a technology that can be immediately rolled out. WiMAX is the best option for that as LTE is not ready for that. All the operators know that there is a lack of devices and infrastructure equipment for LTE right now,” said C.S. Rao of the WiMAX Forum.
“Given current visibility, we expect most Indian operators to go with LTE,” Marc Einstein, a senior industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan, a technology research firm, said over phone from Tokyo.
Einstein, who tracks the mobile and wireless sector in Asia-Pacific, however, did not rule out some operators using WiMAX for immediate roll-out of broadband wireless services in urban India till LTE equipment and devices are commonly available.
A spokesperson for Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s largest telecom operator and winner of four broadband circles, said it was too early to comment on the technology.
Globally, WiMAX has had multiple setbacks in recent times.
On 26 May, UK-based technology researcher Ovum, part of the Datamonitor Group, said that Russia’s leading WiMAX operator Yota plans to switch to LTE when expanding its network. “The announcement (of Yota) comes a month after Clearwire (Corp.) announced that it has changed its agreement with Intel to more readily allow the use of, or conversion to, LTE in its network,” Ovum analysts Angel Dobardziev, Steven Hartley and Mike Sapien said in a 26 May research note.
Intel has invested at least $1 billion in Clearwire, a service provider offering broadband services through WiMAX technology in the US.
Shauvik Ghosh contributed to this story.