Qualcomm in bid for India TD-LTE license

Nicole McCormick & Joseph Waring
18 Mar 2010

India could become the first country outside China to roll out TD-LTE if Qualcomm successfully secures spectrum in next month’s auction.

IN a surprise announcement, the US wireless firm said Wednesdaythat it would bid in the Indian government auction of 2.3 Ghz spectrum in order “to facilitate the deployment of TD-LTE.”

“TD-LTE is compatible with 3G WCDMA/HSPA and EV-DO, and will enable a seamless broadband experience for consumers within India and while roaming globally,” said Qualcomm.

TD-LTE is the next-generation version of the smallest 3G standard, TD-SCDMA, which has been heavily invested by the Chinese government. China Mobile operates the world’s sole commercial TD-SCDMA network.

Qualcomm said that TD-LTE was the technology best-suited for India’s unpaired 2.3 GHz spectrum band, since it will “complement current and upcoming 3G deployments and address India’s rapidly growing demand for high bandwidth broadband services.”

The Qualcomm bid prompted a response from the Wimax Forum, which sees India as the world’s biggest potential market for the rival wireless broadband technology.

“[TD-LTE] is not near the level of testing, maturity and scalability [of Wimax solutions, and…] it is not even a global standard,” Wimax Forum India’s chair, C.S. Rao told the Business Standard.

“This move will help Qualcomm to buy spectrum that can be used after only two-three years and will not help India achieve its wireless broadband target.”

Two BWA licenses will be auctioned per telecom region or “circle” in India.

According to the Department of Telecom (DoT), the floor price for pan-India 3G and BWA spectrum has been set at $775 million and $385 million respectively.

Qualcomm will need Indian partners for its TD-LTE venture, since foreign direct investment is limited to 74%. So far it has not secured a local partner.

“Qualcomm and its partners intend to demonstrate TD-LTE technology with the goal of creating a TD-LTE infrastructure and device ecosystem.”

For its part, China Mobile is to start pre-commercial TD-LTE trials at the Shanghai Expo which opens May 1. It could launch commercial TD-LTE services in late-2010 or 2011.

Qualcomm’s unexpected embrace of TD in India is almost certainly because of the tight spectrum constraints in the market.

Telstra International managing director Tarek Robbiati yesterday attacked “the drip feeding of spectrum to operators, because the regulator wants to issue one license after the other.”

“It fills the gap in the budget. The problem is you get sub-optimal development of the infrastructure. It’s a dangerous path.”

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