Bharti 4G launch fits with wireless sector seachange

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
13 Apr 2012

India has jumped into the LTE age only months after it first turned on 3G services. Its largest cellco, Bharti Airtel, went live with TD-LTE in the state of Kolkata this week and may be buying Qualcomm‟s BWA spectrum in order to deliver 4G to more markets, including the vital metro areas of Delhi and Mumbai.

Such activity sets the stage for India to enter the mobile broadband era at last, and to start to have the impact on the wireless ecosystem which its population and economic might dictate. Despite political delays and low ARPUs, India's use of 3G is growing rapidly, and the GSM Association says the country will become the second largest mobile broadband market within the next four years, with 367 million HSPA and LTE connections expected by 2016.

That will place India above the US, which will account for 337 million mobile broadband connections by then, but behind China, on 639 million. The GSMA estimates that India currently has more than 10 million HSPA connections, and that number is expected to grow by a huge 900% to more than 100 million in 2014, making India the largest HSPA market worldwide ahead of China, Japan and the US.

At the point, only a few short years away, when China and India dwarf the major western economies in 3G+ and 4G, the balance of power in the industry will shift sharply. For this reason, Apple should be worrying now about its relatively weak showing in these two mega-markets, compared to its dominance elsewhere.

Android has almost 70% of the Chinese smartphone market, leaping from 33% to 68% share in just three quarters, according to local research firm Analysys International. Apple saw its Chinese share rise from 4.1% in the first quarter to 5.7% by the end of the fourth quarter, while Nokia has a huge incumbent position in India.

And there is the start of a shared ecosystem between China and India, with the two countries both keen to lessen their reliance on western, Japanese and Korean products and IPR. Despite a host of political and cultural differences, there are growing signs of cooperation on standards, manufacturing and R&D as well as some commercial common interests.

Even the most informal combined efforts can be disastrous for incumbents. For instance, Nokia and Samsung remain in the top two places in India‟s handset space, but are under pressure from the rest of the top five, all relative newcomers - China‟s G'five and Indian manufacturers Karbonn Mobile and Micromax.

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