India's LTE Hopes Firmly Tied to China


Two years ago, the telecom industry was keenly watching the debate between competing broadband internet technologies WiMAX and LTE. More importantly , telecom network equipment and mobile handset makers wanted to know which side of the fence, India, the fastest-growing telecom market, would fall.

When Reliance Industries, the only operator with pan-India licence and spectrum to launch broadband wireless services nationwide hinted at using LTE, it was interpreted as the last nail in the WiMAX coffin. Now Professor Arogyaswami Paulraj , inventor of MIMO, a critical wireless communication technology, says a new debate is catching fire - between two flavours of Long Term Evolution or LTE: TD-LTE versus FDD-LTE . By choosing TD-LTE , Indian operators may have got themselves into trouble because equipment and device manufacturers are currently aligned with FDD-LTE .

Nations such as the US, Japan and some in Europe have chosen FDD-LTE for their broadband rollout. Professor Arogyaswami, now teaching at Stanford University is a seasoned observer and participant in the wireless telecommunication scene.

The first company he founded was acquired by Intel for $70 million while the second was acquired by Broadcom for about $320 million. Unless China puts its might behind TD-LTE , India may be in trouble, the technology expert told Lison Joseph. Edited excerpts:

Do you think dust has settled down on the WiMAX Vs LTE debate?

The success of a technology is also about how many companies build devices around that technology. India may be in trouble because we are the only major country adopting TD-LTE . US and Japan have used FD-LTE technology . Now everybody is waiting for China. But they have invested in a home-grown technology TD-SCDMA and they want to have some traction for that.

The government's thinking is probably that they don't want Chinese companies to adopt a foreign technology until their own technology has a reasonable user base. They will do it only on the basis of national interest. China has expressed its intent to roll out TD-LTE , the question is when.

So unless there are TD-LTE roll outs in several other countries , India is at the mercy of China?

India is a big market no doubt. But, we have never really been a technology leader. We have not driven any technology standards. We have always been a follower. Unlike China Mobile, which has a huge R&D department, our mobile operators depend on others for technology. China also has manufacturing firms like Huawei and ZTE, so they can drive technologies. If at some point Indian operators realise that TDLTE is losing ground, they may drop it and move to a different technology.

So if I'm a telecom manufacturing company, I will be taking a huge risk if I put my research and money behind TD-LTE thinking I have the entire Indian market. I will look for a leader. That way there is a guarantee that if the leader is committed, then I am safe. India , unfortunately does not instill that confidence in equipment and device manufacturers, at least not enough to take significant business risks.

So if the 700MHz spectrum is auctioned in future , can companies who get that, use FDD-LTE for roll out?

That is a possibility and if that does happen, then they will have a competitive advantage over the firms that now own the 23MHz spectrum and is contemplating the use of TD-LTE for roll out.

What would you advise any of these Indian operators looking to launch 4G?

We could have started with WiMAX, a technology that was more mature. Price points would have been much lower and once you have built up a larger enough user base, upgrade to a better technology.

India could have driven WiMAX. But it is too late for that, I wouldn't put money on WiMAX now (laughs). But given the spectrum shortage we have TD-LTE is good from a technology perspective , so we can't abandon it. We are where we are.

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