Indian BWA licensees lean toward TD-LTE

Basharat Ashai, Maravedis
15 Feb 2011

The second half of 2010 in India was abuzz with discussion of several possiblities for BWA licensees on whether to deploy TD-LTE, Wimax or a hybrid-type network (supporting Wimax in the initial stage with a migration path to TD-LTE). These speculations have been laid to rest with license holders now leaning toward TD-LTE.

Indian bigwig Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has selected TD-LTE for rolling out its nationwide BWA network. Ever since RIL issued its first press release mentioning "a single 20-MHz TDD spectrum when used with LTE has the potential of providing greater capacity when compared with existing communication infrastructure in the country," Maravedis predicted it would deploy TD-LTE.

Last November RIL showcased the results from its first field trial of TD-LTE using ST Ericsson dongles. The operator said it had achieved 80-Mbps downlink and 20-Mbps uplink speeds. It also reported full mobility with delivery of applications such as HD multimedia streaming, Live TV was demonstrated with on-the-go speeds of 50 and 70 kilometers per hour, as well as a seamless handover among a number of LTE base station sectors.

Testing stage

The operator is reported to be testing kits from Ericsson, Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent, although it is not yet clear if it intends to select a single vendor or split the contract between multiple partners. It is close to selecting the vendors for a $1 billion TD-LTE rollout, with a decision anticipated in the next couple of months.

Maravedis predicts RIL will have a tough time launching a commercial BWA service using TD-LTE in India until the end of 2011. The fundamental question is whether there is a TD-LTE solution that can go into deployment today to meet the broadband needs of Indian consumers at an affordable price. Current prices of LTE devices are way too high (starting at $100 for USB dongles) for the average Indian consumer. The curve of device prices to reach below $30 (the price an Indian consumer can afford) would be on par with that witnessed by Wimax, and thus may take up to 18-24 months to reach that level. Because of this, Indian operators are expected to develop an initial strategy of targeting business users.

From an economic perspective Chinese vendors (Huawei and ZTE) are usually cheaper, but they have faced some legal trouble when entering the Indian market due to security concerns from the government and competition between the two countries. Since the most price competitive vendors face roadblocks entering the market, TD-LTE adoption may evolve even slower than expected.

It will be interesting to watch "at least in the beginning" how chipset vendors manage to offer cheap LTE chipsets so the resulting device price is suitable for the Indian economy. Qualcomm is not the only chipset vendor, so the results of efforts made by the company to foster TD-LTE adoption in India will also be enjoyed by other players.

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