BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future

Long Term Evolution (LTE) won big in India's Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum auction, and that spells more trouble for rival technology WiMax while boosting the credibility for a version of LTE that uses one channel for both data downloads and uplinks.

Internet service provider Infotel Broadband Services won big with a pan-India license for $2.74 billion. The startup was promptly acquired by massive domestic conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) (RIL), which says it will use LTE to deploy broadband services across the country. (See India's BWA Auction Ends in $8.2B Drama.)

US chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) also won spectrum in four of the auction areas, including spectrum that covers India's two largest cities, New Delhi and Mumbai. Qualcomm has laid out plans to use Time Division-LTE (TD-LTE) for its deployments in India. TD-LTE is ideal for deploying mobile TV and other multimedia services. (See Qualcomm Unveils LTE Plans for India.)

"With its successful bid for BWA spectrum in two of the largest circles, Dehli and Mumbai, Qualcomm has succeeded in prioritizing TD-LTE as the technology of choice for implementing BWA networks in India," says Berge Ayvazian, senior consultant at Heavy Reading. "Qualcomm still needs to secure an Indian operator partner and it is likely that Bharti and Aircell would be high on their list of candidate partners." Ayvazian says the "defense of WiMax" is now left to smaller ISPs such as Tikona Digital and Augere (Mauritius), which won licenses in six of the 22 areas -- or "circles" -- in India covered by the auction. "The WiMAX ecosystem will have no choice but to convince Infotel and RIL that 802.16e technology should be used to deploy its nationwide BWA network, if they have not already joined the TD-LTE camp," the analyst notes.

The Indian auctions mark the latest win for LTE over WiMax:

  • Major Russian broadband provider Yota recently said it will use LTE for upcoming deployments. The operator had been a big proponent of WiMax in Russia. (See LTE Watch: Yota Drops WiMax for LTE and Yota: WiMax + LTE for Russia.)

    Yota has said that it is "still evaluating the options" on whether it will use the more traditional frequency division (FD) version of LTE or TD-LTE. As Ayvazian notes, however, they have LTE basestations on order now and it is unlikely that TD-LTE base stations would be available to fulfill Yota's initial requirements.

  • Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) is asking the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to develop a profile that would allow TD-LTE to be deployed in the US in the 2.6GHz spectrum. (See Clearwire Paves Way for LTE in US and Clearwire Is a WiMax Company (For Now).)

  • Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is testing the technology in Ireland.

  • SoftBank Mobile Corp. is considering using TD-LTE in Japan. (See TD-LTE in Japan?)

    TD-LTE is the easiest technology for WiMax providers to use to supplement or replace WiMax networks in unpaired spectrum. Both TD-LTE and WiMax use one band -- a single carrier -- to transmit data up and down. The up and down data is sent in differently timed packets on the same link. Typical LTE deployments use two carriers with a guard band between the frequencies, like normal cellular networks.

    TD-LTE was originally pioneered by China Mobile Communications Corp. , which intends to use the technology on the mainland. CMCC currently has a trial TD-LTE network running at the Shanghai Expo. (See AsiaWatch: LTE Action Heats Up.)

    — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

  • joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:32:29 PM
    re: BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future

    Is TD-LTE going to be hard to optimize for voice? Are we looking at a dual network strategy for many operators worldwide?

    bergea 12/5/2012 | 4:32:29 PM
    re: BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future

    In the near term TD-LTE networks will only provide mobile broadband data, but VoIP should be available on LTE networks and handsets in 2011 or 2012.  In the meantime, operators will leverage 2G and 3G networks for voice and use TD-LTE to offer complementary mobile and personal broadband services.   

    Haig 12/5/2012 | 4:32:24 PM
    re: BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future

    A neighbor in our village purchased a property downhill between his house and the Hudson River and put restrictions in the deed that limits any structure to one story.  This assured him that his view of the Hudson River will be unobstructed forever.  He then turned around and sold the properly for a profit. 

    It is apparent that Qualcomm's purchase of spectrum in India has the primary goal of stipulating what technology would be deployed in that spectrum.  Qualcomm would probably exit the market once it finds a partner to operate a network with stipulation of using TD-LTE as the technology, thus creating a market for its chipsets, technology and intellectual property. 

    Where is Intel? With US$16 Billion in cash (as compared to the US$11 Billion for Qualcomm) perhaps Intel has decided to invest by adding LTE to its WiMAX chipset.  Perhaps if this auction was held a few years ago, Intel would have participated.  Given the similarities of TD-LTE to WiMAX, a combination of the two would be the best positive outcome that the WiMAX Ecosystem can hope for.  For a chipset vendor, dual mode products represent a fine strategy.  For a service provider, however, the decision of technology choice is much more difficult and challenging.


    Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:32:21 PM
    re: BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future

    @jepovic -- good comment. I wonder if Flo TV will fall into that category? (Qualcomm acquired that spectrum too).

    But what about the work it did to catalyse CDMA around the world? That worked out pretty well. Win some, lose some, no?

    CLWR might be a bit early to call.

    jepovic 12/5/2012 | 4:32:21 PM
    re: BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future

    Intel tried this strategy in Europe, but it was a complete failure. In Sweden, they bought a license two years ago which is still unused, and there are many similar examples worldwide. When all competitors and important handset suppliers go for LTE, it would be suicidal to try to launch mobile Wimax. Qualcomm may have more success with TD-LTE in India. But it seems like a very risky and expensive way of ensuring market share of your own technology. Clearwire will probably become the largest example of how wrong things can go when you puit a chip vendor in the driver's seat of an operator.

    jepovic 12/5/2012 | 4:32:19 PM
    re: BWA Auction Is Bad News for WiMax's Future

    I dont know about the history of CDMA, my impression is rather that there was a lot of political pressure on the countries who chose CDMA (it's interesting to note that countries like China and Brazil nowadays are confident enough to ignore wimax), but what I am positively sure of is that mobile wimax is a dead end. If nothing else, for one reason: Handsets. The handsets are very important for the users, increasingly so with the smartphones (american AT&T bashers should know this all too well), and the handset vendors look for the global market volume and supplier competition. Mobile wimax means no Nokia, no iPhone, plus several of the medium-sized brands. That's simply a show-stopper.

    And after all, why would there be several competing 4G standards, when all other telecom protocols converge globally? Token Ring, anyone?

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