Wimax embraces TD-LTE

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
06 Nov 2012
00:00

The story is well known – the initial Intel-driven push behind Wimax as the first 4G platform; followed by the mobile industry marshalling its forces to accelerate LTE progress and put its weight behind TD-LTE too. That saga came to its logical conclusion last week when the Wimax Forum confirmed that it would embrace other air interfaces such as TD-LTE in its future architecture.

But that does not mean plain sailing for the newer standard. Although definitely entering the mainstream as a future option for many carriers, not just those migrating from Wimax, it is less developed than its FDD cousin in terms of device ecosystem and equipment cost. Those will develop as critical mass is reached, but that goal received a setback last week when two major adopters pushed back their plans.

TD-LTE delays

Aircel in India will not deploy TD-LTE until next year, while Clearwire has been forced to reduce some of its roll-out targets. Aircel is unlikely to start launching 4G services until into its next fiscal year, which starts on April1 2013.

According to local media, the main reason is regulatory uncertainty, particularly about the date and prices for auction of the more mainstream FD-LTE spectrum in the digital dividend band. Another contributor is ongoing industry upheaval amid events like the re-auction of GSM spectrum (some of which could potentially be refarmed for LTE) and the looming end of domestic roaming charges.

It seems that Aircel wants to assess the impact of all these changes on its business case before going ahead in its BWA spectrum. Rival Bharti Airtel has already switched on some TD-LTE services, while Reliance Infotel is the only carrier with national holdings in the BWA band and is seen as the most important short term driver for the TDD technology, in volume terms, after China Mobile and Clearwire.

The latter will not be contributing as much to TD-LTE build-out and subscriber growth as anticipated though, at least in the near term. The operator has radically reduced the number of 4G cell sites it plans to have in commercial operation next summer because of decline in its whole-sale business – following the defection of cableco partner/investors Comcast and Time Warner Cable to a Verizon LTE deal – and sluggish performance in its retail services.

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