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Delay in BWA deployment will cost Indian telcos

Six months after allocation of broadband wireless access spectrum, Indian operators remain undecided over whether to deploy WiMax or TD-LTE. Delay will cost service providers US$2 million a day, says WiMax Forum.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

Months after broadband wireless access spectrum (BWA) was distributed in India, operators have yet to decide which platform to build on and the delay cost them US$2 million a day, warns a WiMax Forum official.

"It has been nearly six months since the BWA spectrum was allocated to the players but there is no clarity over which technology the operators would be going for," Declan Byrne, director of marketing at WiMax Forum, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.

The India government in July allotted 20MHz spectrum, to be used for BWA services deployment, to six operators: Infotel Broadband, Bharti Airtel, AIrcel, Tikona Digital, Qualcomm and Augure.

Much of the debate has revolved around WiMax and LTE. The latter has strong industry support globally including operators, chipset vendors and equipment suppliers, but is not yet commercially available, with mainstream adoption expected only in 2012.

In comparison, WiMax is available today. Not surprisingly, WiMax Forum is hoping India will swing its way.

Byrne said: "If our technology is selected, the service can be operational in two weeks." He noted that the forum has communicated the benefits of WiMax at all levels in India--be it operators, vendors or the government. "All of them know the tradeoffs," he said.

WiMax Forum views India as an important market because of its low penetration rates and, hence, growth potential. There are currently only 7 million broadband connections in the country, which has the world's second-largest population.

"The telecom operators who have won the spectrum tell us that it is a complicated and big decision," Byrne acknowledged. He noted, however, that the overall cost of any delay in BWA deployments would cost operators US$2 million a day.

"We are distressed with things," he said. "We also want the government to be technology-neutral."

Earlier this month, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Infotel conducted an LTE field-trial at its Navi Mumbai campus via a partnership with Ericsson. The Indian operator is the only player to hold a nationwide BWA license.

"There is no questioning the fact that what Infotel plans to do will have a huge bearing on the market," Byrne said.

A spokesperson for Reliance Industries said in a statement: "This LTE trial not only demonstrated the superiority of LTE-TDD technology but it also strengthened our confidence in the timely availability of the LTE ecosystem in India with Ericsson's global deployment expertise. This is an important milestone for Indian telecom industry in showcasing LTE performance on a live network."

WiMax has significant support from state-owned BSNL, which has installed nearly 1,000 base stations across various Indian states. By the end of 2011, BSNL plans to have 5,000 base stations.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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