Fast 4Ward

4G deployments gath­ered much steam as tel­cos fast-tracked their LTE roll­outs in the wake of ris­ing smartphone adop­tion and ac­cel­er­at­ing data growth

Voice&Data - - CONTENT -

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.

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