Reliance Jio Infocomm, the telecom arm of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries and only holder of nationwide BWA spectrum licences, has finally started work on deploying its TD-LTE network.
The carrier will invest between 6 billion and 7 billion rupees ($100.5 million to $117.2 million) on phase one – rolling out 800 towers in the northeastern state of Assam. It is also laying fiber in Assam and seven other states to kickstart its 4G program.
CEO Mukesh Ambani said this first roll-out would be finished around the end of this year and further operating circles will then follow, and that Reliance is currently engaged in vendor selection. He expects to sign a $2.1 billion deal to share up to 45,000 towers with his brother Anil's mobile operator, Reliance Communications.
Despite ambitious overall goals, Reliance Jio has been slow to embark on 4G, and the pace is unlikely to pick up enough to satisfy all the players eager for a big uptick in Indian capex, especially the boost it will give the TD-LTE ecosystem. Ambani told a shareholder meeting that
“our impatience to meet our goal demands a sense of urgency, but not careless haste. By the time we meet next year, I will report on the specifics of the substantial progress that we will have made.”
This caution characterizes the progress of Indian broadband wireless so far, and the disappointment that has followed after the high excitement around the BWA spectrum auction of June 2010. That generated $8.2 billion for the treasury and opened the potential for the largest build-out of TDD wireless networks outside China.
More than three years on though, there has been limited activity; Reliance has been slower than expected to go commercial; and the spectrum is not yielding the hoped-for returns.