The move is interesting on many levels if Qualcomm is successful, though there are many hurdles for the company to leap before it can achieve its aims.
The main potential impact of this move is that it could help create a global market for TD-LTE technology, which, currently, has found significant support only in China -- China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), specifically. (See Motorola's Shanghai Hope and China Mobile Fast-Tracks TD-LTE .)
A new face for 2.3GHz in India
If Qualcomm is successful, it would provide a whole new dimension to the Indian mobile market, and likely force the current wireless service providers, such as Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Reliance Communications Ltd. , Tata Teleservices Ltd. , and Vodafone India , to rethink their strategies.
Qualcomm plans to bid for spectrum in the BWA (broadband wireless access) auction, where an unpaired slot of 20MHz in the 2.3GHz band is available in each of India's service circles. (See A Guide to India's Telecom Market to find out more about the circles, including a map.)
Until now, the BWA spectrum had been considered of interest to WiMax service providers: Bringing TD-LTE into the equation provides a whole new slant on what could be done with that spectrum, because the technology is capable, theoretically, of delivering downlink connections of 100 Mbit/s or more. Having such capabilities would enhance the potential for broadband service uptake in India, something the country's government is keen to promote.
Two slots of 20MHz spectrum are available in each circle in the 2.3GHz band. An additional slot has already been reserved in each circle for the state-owned carriers, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) .
This raises the prospect of Qualcomm going head-to-head with one or more WiMax players in the auction. And if Qualcomm is ready to bid for spectrum, and then team up with a local network operator to deploy a TD-LTE network, might not Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), for example, consider doing likewise from the WiMax camp?
Adds a twist to 3G auction process
What makes the scenario even more interesting is that the BWA spectrum auction takes place after the auction of 2.1GHz spectrum, which will be used for 3G/WCDMA services in India.
Here's the current timetable for the auction of new spectrum in India:
Table 1: India's 3G/BWA Auction Process Timetable
|March 19||Deadline for applications from companies wanting to participate in the 3G and BWA auctions|
|March 23||Identities and ownership details of hopeful bidders published|
|March 26||Bidder ownership compliance certificates issued|
|March 30||Pre-qualification of bidders|
|April 5/6||Mock auctions|
|April 9||3G spectrum auction begins, and will last as long as the bidding continues|
|April ?||BWA auction begins two days after the end of the 3G spectrum auction|
This means that India's 3G hopefuls, including such carriers as Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications, could find themselves bidding for new spectrum without knowing whether they face future competition from rivals developing services using TD-LTE or WiMax technology.
Of course, those operators might choose to use any 3G spectrum they win in the auction for voice services -- they could all use the extra capacity for voice -- and team with Qualcomm in the 2.3GHz band for the delivery of data services. There were a number of different permutations around voice and data service plans before Qualcomm's announcement, and now there are many more.
A boost to TD-LTE's global potential
If Qualcomm is successful in the auction, it would team up with a local network operator or operators (as required by the auction's conditions) to create a local joint venture, help in the rollout of TD-LTE infrastructure and associated ecosystem (devices, applications), and then exit the venture.
"By participating in India's BWA spectrum auction, Qualcomm can foster the accelerated deployment of TD-LTE," Qualcomm noted today in its press release.
And this, really, is the main aim for Qualcomm -- to boost the deployment of TD-LTE (also known as TDD, or Time-Division Duplex LTE) technology.
TD-LTE is one of two flavors of Long Term Evolution (LTE), the other being FDD-LTE (Frequency-Division Duplex LTE), which has been more widely adopted to date because of the suitability of the spectrum made available in markets in North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific. (See Who Makes What: LTE Equipment.)
Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown notes that 2.3GHz airwaves have mostly been regarded as WiMax spectrum, but he says TD-LTE could potentially be widely used in India and Indonesia, both of which are auctioning suitable 2.3GHz spectrum, as well as in China, where it is already being used by China Mobile.
If the technology is deployed in those three markets, which have a combined population of 2.7 billion people (roughly 40 percent of the world's total population of 6.8 billion), then a significant market would be created for TD-LTE products.
"This move is mainly about creating a global ecosystem around TD-LTE at 2.3GHz, with India and Indonesia due to allocate spectrum this year and next. If TD-LTE was adopted in three of the most populous countries in the world, it would create the opportunity for economies of scale that would benefit the entire LTE ecosystem," says Brown.
And the industry support from the technology supply side is already there, as the two main chip vendors, Qualcomm and ST-Ericsson , and others such as Sequans Communications , support TD-LTE in their basebands, and the infrastructure vendors support the standard in their standing multi-technology network infrastructures. (See AlcaLu Sets TD-LTE Record, Continuous Computing Supports TD-LTE, China Mobile Selects Sequans for LTE Chips, AlcaLu Joins China Mobile LTE Trial, Ericsson Demos TD-LTE Interop, Motorola Passes TD-LTE Test, Huawei Builds TD-LTE Trial Net, ZTE Demos TD-LTE, and Nokia Siemens Targets TD-LTE.)
China Mobile, in particular, will want to see Qualcomm succeed with its plans in India. "China Mobile needs international support for TD-LTE. It doesn't want to be isolated with only a small vendor ecosystem to work with. Getting the Indian market behind the technology would help to get the volumes going," notes Brown.
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading