Saturday, August 22, 2009

The State of 3G and LTE in India

With wireless subscription having reached to 441.66 Million, India has yet to catchup with other countries in 3G and LTE (Long Term Evolution) deployments. India's state-run mobile operators BSNL and MTNL have already launched commercial 3G services after getting access to spectrum last year. BSNL and MTNL have set sights on adding between 200,000 and 300,000 subscribers during the first year of operations.

DoT and finance ministry recently indicated to limit the number of slots to just four blocks of 5 MHz each in the 2.1 GHz band for 3G auctions with a view to maximizing revenue per block of spectrum. These four new entrants will be in addition to BSNL/MTNL, taking the total 3G operators per circle to five.

Even as the policy for auctioning spectrum for 3G mobile services is yet to be finalized, the Department of Telecom is already thinking about the introduction of 4G technologies such as LTE. It says some spectrum must be retained to accommodate the future needs of these operators as well as to provide for 4G technology (LTE) which will require a minimum channel of 10 MHz for the launch of service.

However telecom operators RCOM, Tata, Systema and equipment vendor Qualcomm strongly are opposing the government’s move to restrict 3G spectrum auctions to four blocks per circle. These companies want all spectrum to be put on the block so that the demand-supply equation pushes down its price.

The final decisions will be made by Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) in the next few weeks, based on which 3G auctions are expected either by early December or after January 2010.

It is still not clear how many operators could get 3G & LTE spectrum. Similar to 3G, LTE may come in India in 2.1 Ghz band, as 2.5 Ghz (EU LTE spectrum) is mostly used for satellite-based networks. In India most operators are looking to move to this technology by 2011, once they start making money on 3G services. MTNL & BSNL may again lead LTE deployments.

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