Analyst: LTE TDD Will Reach India in 2011

Following swiftly on the heels of the widespread launch of 3G services, India is set to witness the launch of its first Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) network in the second half of 2011, according to an experienced industry analyst. (See Bharti Gets a Makeover Before 3G Launch and India's Tata Ready for 3G Launch.)

Two developments in the Indian telecom industry this week have added momentum to the country's LTE TDD sector. The first, and more important of the two, was the confirmation by BWA (broadband wireless access) license-holder Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) that it intends to build out a network based on LTE TDD technology. Reliance Industries is the only company to hold a pan-Indian BWA spectrum. (See Reliance Gives Impetus to LTE TDD in India and Reliance Shows Off LTE TDD Ecosystem.)

The second development was the demonstration of LTE TDD capabilities in India by industry giants Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). (See Ericsson, Qualcomm Demo LTE TDD in India.)

But it's going to be a few months yet before the LTE TDD ecosystem -- networks, devices, supporting Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) systems -- will be ready. "Globally, LTE is gaining momentum, but LTE TDD is still more than a year behind WiMax and LTE FDD, and this going to have a big impact on the decision of the Indian operators. I still think Indian operators will have a hard time launching a commercial BWA service using LTE TDD until the second half of 2011. This may just mean they will delay until then," says Berge Ayvazian, senior consultant at Heavy Reading.

His view is corroborated by Qualcomm, which successfully bid for BWA spectrum in the auction earlier this year. The company had paid more than US$1 billion for BWA spectrum in four circles (service areas): Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala. (See Qualcomm Wins India Spectrum, India's BWA Auction Ends in $8.2B Drama, and BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future .)

"The Indian operators will finish the 3G launch by March next year and we would be demonstrating interoperability with 3G in the second quarter of the coming year. Ecosystem will be ready then. We expect one or two operators to launch in the second half of the coming year but the actual launch may be dependent on the operators," the president of Qualcomm India and South Asia, Kanwalinder Singh, told Light Reading Asia. (See Reliance Sets Out Its 3G Stall and India's 3G Auction Ends, Raises $14.6B)

Not surprisingly, the WiMAX Forum has a different take on current developments. "LTE TDD is unlikely to take off in India as the technology is not ready for commercial rollout," says CS Rao, chairman of the Forum in India.

Qualcomm's quest
Meanwhile, Qualcomm continues to seek operators that can take on its spectrum and build out LTE TDD networks, a move that was always part of its medium-term strategy.

The company has already offloaded a 26 per cent stake to Tulip Telecom Ltd. and GTL Ltd. for about $58 million, and recent media reports put Qualcomm in talks with Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) (See Qualcomm Names India LTE Investors , Qualcomm Updates on India Exit Plan, and Will Qualcomm Sell Its BWA Spectrum in India? .)

According to the reports, Aircel has shown interest in the Mumbai and Kerala circles, while Bharti is interested in the Delhi and Haryana circles. Qualcomm's spectrum can be sold together as a single block or be split into two blocks -- one grouping Mumbai and Kerala, and the other Delhi and Haryana.

"We are not in any hurry to offload the spectrum which we have won. We are talking to all operators, both 3G and 2G, and there is a certain set of base terms we are discussing with the operators. However, we're certain that we do not want to compete with the operators," says Qualcomm's Singh.

Though the Indian market is moving towards LTE TDD, it is not the end of the road for WiMax. "The decision to deploy LTE [in place of] WiMax may still vary by circle and operator," believes Ayvazian at Heavy Reading. "For example, Reliance may select a few rural circles for WiMax deployments to deliver low-cost broadband, taking advantage of the current cost and maturity advantages of the WiMax base stations and devices. But in major cities [the operators] will deploy LTE TDD, even if it delays service rollouts," he adds. (See All WiMax Eggs in Reliance Basket, India's Still Hot for WiMax, Says Forum , BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future and WiMax, 3G to Dominate India's Broadband Future)

— Gagandeep Kaur, India Editor, Light Reading

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