Hong Kong: The launch of 3G in China and India by the likes of China Mobile and Bharti Airtel could boost wireless broadband worldwide, sparking a boom in new offerings as millions of users sign up for services.
The move to 3G and its likely follow-on, fourth-generation (4G) Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, is also set to help Chinese network equipment makers such as Huawei better challenge Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks.
“A lot of people in China and India don’t have fixed line connectivity, so they will look to wireless broadband for their future online access,” said Michael O’Hara, chief marketing officer of the GSM Association, a mobile industry group, on the sides of a telecoms industry event this week in Hong Kong.
India, the world’s fastest-growing wireless market, with about 490 million users, has been adding about 14 million subscribers each month. The government has pencilled in revenue of Rs35,000 crore ($7.6 billion) from the auction of 3G spectrum.
O’Hara said some 169 million people worldwide have access to broadband-quality wireless service using a 3G technology known as HSPA, generally considered one of the first technologies to provide such speed.
That number is expected to swell to 1 billion by 2012, as operators upgrade their systems and start rolling out 4G, especially in the massive China and India markets, he said.
China took a long-delayed 3G plunge in January when Beijing awarded licenses to its top three mobile operators in the world’s largest mobile phone market, which now has about 700 million subscribers.
Since then, China Mobile and its two rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom have aggressively built their 3G networks, which now have several million users.
“Our big commitment is to HSPA,” Manoj Kohli, CEO of Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile carrier, told Reuters on the sidelines of the event.
Looking to 4G
Less than a year after getting its 3G licenses, China Mobile, the world’s top mobile carrier with 500 million subscribers, is already looking past 3G to the next generation, planning to build a trial LTE network in multiple cities next year, Chairman Wang Jianzhou told reporters this week.
Those trials could be followed by the roll-out of a commercial LTE network as early as 2011, said O’Hara of the GSM Association.
The looming explosion of wireless broadband is fuelling a parallel rise in smartphones and other devices and applications optimised to take advantage of the high data speeds with functions such as TV streaming and video downloads over cellphones.
Qualcomm, the world’s largest maker of cellphone chips, is aggressively promoting its new Snapdragon chip optimized for smartbooks, a new category of cellular devices it hopes to pioneer. These devices are larger than smartphones but smaller than laptop PCs.
The company hopes to sell millions of the chips worldwide, Qualcomm chief executive Paul Jacobs said on the sidelines of the show this week, declining to give a timeframe.
The push to 3G and beyond has also added new impetus to China’s Huawei, which has risen from relatively obscurity just a decade ago to become the world’s No. 2 networking equipment provider this year, passing Nokia Siemens Networks.