Broadband offtake? Wait till 2013
The Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) auction happened in June 2010 when players such as Aircel, Augere Wireless, Bharti airtel, Qualcomm, Reliance Industries and Tikona Digital Networks paid $8.23 bn to bag the license. It is around 17 months now but nobody is in a hurry to launch the services except Augere Wireless which has given the equipment order to Ericsson for the Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh circles, and plans for a soft launch in early Q2 2012.
So the big question is: Why are operators still performing trials and are not confident of giving orders to equipment vendors?
Experts say that TDD-LTE chipsets are still not ready and are still in the sampling stage. For eg, chipsets like MSM 8960 (a mobile processor with integrated modem for TDD-LTE/FDD-LTE/EV-DO/HSPA+) from Qualcomm and M7400 (a modem supporting TDD-LTE/FDD-LTE/HSPA+/TD-SDCMA/EDGE) from St-ericsson are still not ready and will be commercially available only in the H12012. Once the chipsets are available it would take 6-9 months to develop LTE/3G smartphones. So experts are predicting smartphones availability by the end of 2012 or early 2013.
Recently, Qualcomm launched the Gobi 4000 platform that supports TDD-LTE in 2.3 GHZ band but there are no commercially available Gobi 4000 modules till date. This is expected to be launched only in 2012 by Novatel and Sierra Wireless. Gobi 4000 will help in bringing laptops, tablets, and other devices requiring 4G connectivity of the market. So, in toto, we do not see dongles, tablets, and smartphones based on TDD-LTE in 2.3 GHZ launched before H2 2012.
If we look back, a lot of handset vendors in India launched 3G handsets or smartphones before the 3G services were launched by operators but in the case of TDD-LTE we are not seeing the same momentum. Till now nobody has launched tablets or smartphones in the Indian market catering to TDD-LTE in the 2.3 GHZ band, and this is only because the chipsets are not ready. It is expected to happen only by the end of 2012 or early 2013.
TDD-LTE will also enable a lot of devices, apart from smartphones and tablets, be it communication enabled utility meters, health devices, consumer appliances, and many other connected devices. And all this will happen only when the chipsets get ready and the silicon players start making modules for specific applications. Opening of the applications market can result in large scale deployment of BWA in the country in verticals like health, education, agriculture, and utilities.
In the absence of customer premise equipment, BWA operators have no other option but to delay their orders as nobody is in a position to do end-to-end trials along with the devices and applications. It is expected that BWA players will take another year for experimentation and trials. It seems large scale commercial deployment of TDD-LTE will happen only in 2013. Even if one looks at the NTP 2011 document, it talks about affordable and reliable broadband on demand only by 2015 and 175 mn broadband connections by 2017, which is justifiable knowing the delay in commercialization of TDD-LTE worldwide. So it is certain that broadband offtake in India will happen in a big way starting 2013.