4G deployments gathered much steam as telcos fast-tracked their LTE rollouts in the wake of rising smartphone adoption and accelerating data growth
Mobile operators worldwide have moved on from investing in 2G to newer technologies like 3G and 4G LTE and beyond. While LTE is still nascent in many a country, it is growing at a fast pace. India is no exception to that. All major telcos in the country have embarked on their 4G journeys and are at various stages of rollouts. This is a major shift from just about a couple of years ago, when many operators had categorically ruled out near-term rollouts of 4G LTE. In fact, the fiscal 2016 even witnessed the rollouts of networks-based on the LTE-Advanced technology, which could deliver download speeds of up to 450 Mbps in ideal conditions.
Operators have also started investing strategically in the Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology, which is a notable shift from the Circuit Switched Fall-Back (CSFB) arrangement used earlier. The reason this shift from CSFB to VoLTE is significant is because it also mandates an investment into IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) architecture, which is particularly essential to the build-out of an all-IP telecom infrastructure.
However, while most of the fiscal 2016 saw a rush for network buildouts, the activities slowed down somewhat towards the last quarter of the fiscal. This may be attributed to two key factors: one, the telcos got busy with M&As, which not only helped dilute their buildout focus but also reduced the urgency, given that the acquisitions anyways brought in significant infrastructure assets to the buyers. Two, after the spectrum auctions for 2016 became imminent, operators naturally thought it would be wiser to wait for the outcome of the auctions so that they could tweak their buildouts based on the new spectrum bands they acquired. Needless to say, creating and preserving funds for the auctions also became a priority.
Key deployment trends
Ericsson and Nokia were at the forefront of the rollout deals, while Huawei also made significant gains in the 4G LTE deals segment. In February 2016, Ericsson bagged a deal from Idea Cellular to deploy a 4G LTE network and to transform its existing 2G and 3G networks. While the LTE deployment was to cover
select telecom circles that served over 40 million subscribers, the transformation component pertained to 2G in nine circles and 3G in five circles.
According to Ericsson, the contract not only covered equipment and software but also a range of professional services, including project management, systems integration and su- pervisory managed services for 4G LTE across select circles for a period of two years. As part of the network infrastructure, Ericsson is installing its multi-standard RBS 6000 radio base stations, which support various 2G, 3G and 4G LTE technologies in a single cabinet.
Earlier, in September 2015, the Swedish gear maker had won an Airtel deal for rollout of 4G LTE in the Delhi circle. Then also, RBS 6000 radio base station formed a core part of the infrastructure component. As part of the contract, Ericsson was to provide its multi-standard radio equipment from the Ericsson RBS 6000 base station family for macro and small cell networks. The agreement also included deployment of Ericsson’s LTE RAN software. Ericsson also partnered with Airtel to deploy LTE networks in four other circles, though further details weren’t disclosed.
Finnish telecom giant Nokia wasn’t behind either. It bagged a three-year contract from Vodafone to provide LTE networks in Mumbai, Kolkata and Punjab. Nokia, which was involved in India’s first LTE commercial rollout in 2012, also announced an agreement with Airtel to expand its 4G partnership to 5 circles for FDD-LTE technologies and two additional circles for TD-LTE technologies. In April 2016, it also struck a deal with Idea Cellular to roll out 4G networks in three circles, namely Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana for an undisclosed sum. As part of the deal, Nokia will deploy its much-publicized single RAN technology, which enables simultaneous 2G, 3G and 4G operations on one platform. It will also support the modernization and expansion of Idea’s core network and operations support systems to support the 4G LTE rollout, along with professional services for network deployment, network planning and optimization, system integration and supervisory managed services support.
Meanwhile, Vodafone, in sync with the multi-vendor contract trend, awarded 4G rollout deals for two circles to Huawei Technologies last year. The Shenzen-headquartered firm also won a three-year contract worth Rs 1,200 crore from Telenor (Uninor) to modernize and manage its network in India. As per the deal, Huawei will modernize Telenor’s entire telecom network across six circles with 24,000 base stations. Currently, Telenor operates in the circles of UP (West), UP (East), Bihar (including Jharkhand), Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat.
Similarly, another Chinese player ZTE bagged a project from BSNL to install 21,000 base transceiver stations (BTSs), of which 13,000 3G BTSs are likely to be set up this fiscal. This is an additional order for ZTE from BSNL, which plans to install 25,000 BTS in phase seven to increase its 3G penetration. Of this, ZTE had set up 23,000 stations and the fresh order includes 21,000 more base stations. BSNL is also focusing on upgrading the core with the latest release of 3GPP so that it can be utilized by new technologies like 4G and 5G.
The rush among telcos to modernize networks is not
without a reason. As per a recent Cisco report, India’s 4G LTE data usage surpassed all other types of networks and the average 4G smartphone generated 1,256 MB of traffic per month in India in the previous year, compared to 420 MB for non-4G smartphones. 4G smartphones are expected to generate 2,833 MB of traffic per month by 2020.
To better cater to the rising mobile traffic and to optimize its existing network rollouts, Vodafone India recently deployed Cisco’s Self Optimizing Network (SON) technology to deliver a superior mobile experience to one-third of its user base. Cisco’s SON technology is expected to deliver a differentiated customer experience, both by optimizing its existing sites and streamlining new site additions. Vodafone India has already deployed SON over a third of its network. Deployment will continue until the entire network is SON-enabled.
Campaigns and drives
Both Ericsson and Nokia rolled out strategic marketing and awarenessbuilding campaigns in India, as part of their global initiatives. For instance, Ericsson’s campaign, titled ‘We Enable Change Makers’ aligned closely with startups and students to promote innovation.
Meanwhile, its Networked Society City Index that ranks cities based on their performance in sustainable urban development and ICT maturity, saw Delhi and Mumbai changing places. While Delhi slipped two spots down from 36 in 2014 to 38 in 2016, Mumbai jumped one spot up from 37 to 36 reflecting the improved ICT connectivity.
Similarly, Nokia’s MakeTechHuman campaign that aims to improve people’s lives through greater adoption of technology, also aligned with the government’s Digital India program, besides partnering with research institutes. Recently, it forged a three-year partnership with IIT-Madras to evaluate usage of unlicensed spectrum for delivering cost- efficient, last- mile broadband connectivity to remote rural communities in India, thus complementing the government’s National Optical Fiber Network initiative.