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India Watch: 3G Wait Over?

Ray Le Maistre
LR Mobile News Analysis
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief
2/23/2010
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India looks set to be one of the most interesting, turbulent, exciting, and frustrating of telecom markets for the foreseeable future. (See India Ends 2009 on a Mobile High and A Guide to India's Telecom Market.)

Why? Check out this collection of news snippets to find out.

3G auction hopes raised again
It's just possible that the auction of 3G spectrum might take place in mid-April. The Economic Times reports India's telecom minister, Andimuthu Raja, as saying the government will issue a bid document by the end of this week. That move will kick-start a process that, according to Raja, should end with an auction around 40 to 45 days later, or around mid-April.

Exciting news for sure, and the vendor community will no doubt be in a frenzy over which operators might prevail, and what the resulting 3G network rollout spoils might be. But we've heard the 3G story so many times before -- in May 2009, for example -- that seeing will be believing. (See IndiaWatch: 3G Auction Imminent.)

In the meantime, India continues to activate nearly 20 million new 2G lines per month, so there's no shortage of ongoing network capacity and management issues to deal with. (See India Ends 2009 on a Mobile High.)

And then, of course, there's the next generation of mobile after that...

Preparing early for 4G
With the whole 3G process having dragged on for a few years now, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has decided it doesn't want to encounter similar delays with the next generation of mobile technology, and so has initiated an industry consultation on Long Term Evolution (LTE), reports the Economic Times. (See India's 3G Spectrum in Short Supply .)

Maybe India should just skip 3G altogether, and move straight from 2G to LTE. That, as Light Reading Asia has pointed out previously, wouldn't be such a bad idea. (See Tata's 3G Conundrum .)

Mobile number portability woes
The whole 3G spectrum muddle isn't the only issue troubling the Indian mobile sector currently. Mobile number portability, for which preparations have been going on for nearly a year, had been due to be introduced at the beginning of this year, but it has also been affected by delays and pushed to the end of March. (See Asia Watch: M&A, IPTV & Indian Delays and AsiaWatch: India Preps Number Portability.)

Now, though, minister Raja is talking of a launch at the end of May, reports The Press Trust of India.

And as a side issue, Telcordia Technologies Inc. 's investment in a joint venture to handle India's impending mobile number portability services has been subject to a review, seemingly because of business it has conducted in neighboring Pakistan, though a decision has been deferred for now, according to The Wall Street Journal.

IPO and M&A update
CDMA new entrant Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd. , which offers its services under the brand name MTS India, is considering an IPO, according to the Business Standard.

In September 2009, when it had 1.73 million customers, Sistema Shyam was valued at $3.5 billion. The operator ended last year with just over 3 million subscribers. (See AsiaWatch: What Price India's Mobile Market?)

Elsewhere, though, the idea of a public flotation is less appealing. With an IPO looking tricky, the Indian government is mulling a private placement of up to 10 percent of state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) 's equity, according to the Business Standard.

Meanwhile, IT and integration services specialist Wipro Ltd. (NYSE: WIT) is looking at acquisition opportunities in the telecom sector, according to The Wall Street Journal. Apps 'R' Us
2010, it seems, is going to be the year of the Indian operator app store. With Aircel Ltd. having already outlined its plans, Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) has launched App Central, which offers 1,250 applications that, the carrier claims, can be paid for with a single click that either deducts credit or adds the cost to the user's monthly bill. (See Bharti Launches Airtel App Central and Aircel Plans Mobile App Store, Tower Sale.)

Reliance Communications Ltd. , which has been in the news for a new enterprise wireless data initiative, is planning to open its GSM app store by the end of this month, reports Reuters. (See Reliance Preps $260M Enterprise Data Initiative.)

Telco app stores are likely to be all the rage the world over this year, but they face a number of challenges, according to a new Heavy Reading report. (See Developer Apathy Could Curb Telco App Stores.)

Other recent news from India includes:

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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