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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Use TD-LTE for wireless broadband service?

Technology may not be mature enough to satiate the needs of Indian telcos
artical Picture
As the telecom players who have bid huge amounts to win broadband wireless access spectrum make their technology choice, they have to balance the need to roll out the service fast, minimising the time taken to monetise the spectrum they have already paid for, and to adopt a technology that is future-proof and compatible with their inter-connect partners’ choice. The choice, essentially is between WiMax and the time division version of long-term evolution (LTE), which is yet to be fully validated. Prof Arogyaswami Paulraj of Stanford University, who has made significant contributions to developing MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) techniques used in mobile WiMAX, and was awarded the Padma Bhushan this year, offers his perspective. 
    
TD-LTE technology, which is one of the candidates for wireless broadband services in India, is being delayed. Now, it is time to seriously consider if TD-LTE is the best technology that can serve as growth driver for India, a country with a great potential for wireless broadband, and if the technology is worth waiting for until the ecosystem becomes mature. 
    
TD-LTE lies on the evolution path of TD-SCDMA (time division synchronous code division multiple access), a technology driven by the Chinese government, and is, therefore, widely known as a standard originating from China. Most patents related to TD-LTE are owned by Chinese vendors and top positions in the standards bodies related to TD-LTE are dominated by the Chinese, which means that standardisation can be delayed or specifications can be modified in their favour. 
    
If TD-LTE keeps growing this way, the whole telecommunication industry could end up relying on Chinese vendors. It is questionable if TD-LTE ecosystem formed by Chinese vendors is robust and sustainable enough to continue its technology development and widespread adoption. 
    
So far, only a few operators, including China Mobile, have expressed their will to adopt TDLTE technology. Considering the time needed to develop TD-LTE products, the earliest availability of commercial products in the market will be around 2012. 
    
Although China Mobile is the largest mobile operator by subscriber base, it is still doubtful how many subscribers they can have by 2012 when wireless broadband market enters into a mature stage. 
    
This state of affairs is a cause for worry and anxiety for Indian operators who have finally acquired BWA (Broadband Wireless Access) spectrum. A total of $8.2 billion was paid by the six winners of the BWA auction. According to a recent news report, they have to pay interest costs of about $36 million every month. Winners of BWA auction in India are eager to recover this huge amount of investment by launching their services as early as possible. 
    
The delay affects not just for the industry. Telecom being an infrastructure sector, this delay contributes to the national loss in terms of opportunity and development. 
    
It is a source of worry for the government as well. The government plans to raise India’s broadband subscriber base to 100 million from its current level of 7 million (penetration 0.6%) by 2014. 
    
By raising its broadband penetration rate, the government aims to boost the economy’s performance, as the plan is expected to invigorate the country’s telecommunication industry and create new jobs. The World Bank recently announced that a 10% growth of broadband penetration leads a 1.3% increase in the GDP of a nation. 
    
TD-LTE, currently at its initial stage of development, seems not mature enough to satiate the needs of Indian operators and the government. Even in China, some tests are underway but no commercial base stations or terminals are available at this point. 
    
India is one of the countries with the most potential for growth. Will India take a chance to leapfrog its economic status by expanding broadband coverage with mature wireless technology available today or continue to remain waiting for tomorrow for a new and untested technology and thus, lose the opportunity of faster economic growth? In my view, the former is the choice which this country needs and will go for.

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