Rumor: India Coup for WiMax Camp

Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) , which thrust itself into the Indian broadband wireless market earlier this year with the acquisition of Infotel Broadband, has decided to deploy WiMax for its initial network rollout, and is all set to sign a deal with Samsung Corp. , according to industry source.

The move is significant, not only for the Indian market, but for the global WiMax sector. Having acquired Infotel, RIL is the only company to hold a countrywide BWA (Broadband Wireless Access) license in India, and indicated at the time of the acquisition that it planned to build a TD-Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. (See India's Billion-Dollar LTE Question, India's BWA Auction Ends in $8.2B Drama, Oh Brother!, and RIL Takes Over Infotel.)

That plan was widely regarded as a major blow for the WiMax sector, even though there has been support for WiMax from other parts of India's carrier community. (See BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future , WiMax, 3G to Dominate India's Broadband Future, and India's Still Hot for WiMax, Says Forum .)

But in recent weeks there has been growing speculation that Reliance Infotel, as RIL's broadband wireless subsidiary is known, might have to deploy WiMax to kick-start its commercial rollout while TD-LTE is developed further. (See All WiMax Eggs in Reliance Basket.)

And according to an industry source, who requested anonymity, a senior team from Samsung's Korea headquarters is arriving in India tonight to close a WiMax technology deal with Reliance Infotel.

"Reliance is looking at signing a deal which encompasses both network infrastructure as well as devices for the end user. This is the main reason that Samsung is at the forefront. The closest competitor to Samsung is Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , but they don't have good distribution infrastructure, which is why the deal is likely to tilt in favor of Samsung," says the source.

However, Reliance Infotel says the company is yet to take a final decision on its technology roadmap. "The trial of both the technologies [TD-LTE and WiMax] is still going on and it will take at least a month or two before we get the results of the trial and decide in favor of one of the two technologies," states a Reliance Infotel official who didn't wish to be named. (See Ambani Faces Broadband Challenges.)

Reliance Infotel's decision is critical to both the WiMax and TD-LTE camps: WiMax needs all the support it can get right now in the face of strong mindset competition from TD-LTE's supporters, who are looking to build on the momentum that China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) is generating. In addition, US operator Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), one of the world's biggest WiMax service providers, has indicated it is checking out the potential of TD-LTE technology. (See Clearwire Expands Summer WiMax Rollout.)

On a more local level, Reliance Infotel's decision will impact the decision of BWA license holders in India, none of which want to be supporting a minority technology.

— Gagandeep Kaur, India Editor, Light Reading

mildseven10 12/5/2012 | 4:23:44 PM
re: Rumor: India Coup for WiMax Camp

It is good to see some supplier diversity in the win bracket and a well deserved win for Samsung's strong Wimax line after a real shootout in India. The Wimax win also seems to shed light on the real supply position of TD-LTE. Now it is up to Qualcomm to show how quickly it can (at least) large-scale demo a TD system in India.      

bergea 12/5/2012 | 4:23:44 PM
re: Rumor: India Coup for WiMax Camp

In this age of multi-mode base stations, new BWA licensees like RIL can select a vendor such as Huawei or Samsung, and delay the choice of 4G technology until after the results of TD-LTE and WiMAX trials.  The same base station could be deployed with either a WiMAX or TD-LTE card – or both.  The more critical issue is the cost and availability of devices in the first year of operations and over the life of the network.  This gives Samsung a major advantage over other infrastructure vendors, since it is better positioned to manage the supply and cost of 4G smartphones and USB modems.   You can bet that this will be the focus of negotiations between Reliance Infotel and the senior Samsung executives reported to be arriving in India from Korea.   In the early years, WiMAX devices will be considerably less expensive than comparable TD-LTE devices for Reliance Infotel.   Initially there will be at least a 2X premium on LTE devices, and it could be as much as 5X premium on USB modems.  Samsung Galaxy LTE smartphones may be available in 2011 but could cost $500 or more, and LTE USB modems could initially cost $200 rather than $40 for WiMAX USBs in quantity.  This could force operators to subsidize these devices or bundle them to drive mobile broadband service adoption and create a viable BWA business case. After a few years, economies of scale may tip the cost advantage to the LTE side and this may drive Reliance to the 3GPP global standard.  Stay tuned for more rumors from India. 

bbiswas 12/5/2012 | 4:23:43 PM
re: Rumor: India Coup for WiMax Camp

I do not believe that RIL is really seriosly thinking to deploy and stay with Wimax as a real service. They have seen Clearwire's miserable failure in US. The LTE tide will just wipe out Wimax.

However I think that RIL is really positioning itself to get in in a big wat with LTE in India. RIL is talking about Wimax so that other companies (Vodafone ?) do not have a head start in LTE in India. Besides, if they can really have devices which can work as wimax device now and some firmwire change can make it LTE device that would be a winner. Otherwise they will money the way Clearwire has lost. However, I am not sure if that simple firmware update is possible or not.

On the device pricing, Indian companies are expected to follow the pricing structure as followed in US and Europe. LTE devices can be purchased only under a two year contract (monthly charge in the 2000 rupees range) or something. One thing for sure, whoever comes first (has to be one of the big boys), will dominate the Indian market.


Buddhadeb Biswas, Polaris Networks

Sign In