The Indian telecom sector has seen tremendous progress in the last few years in terms of a growing mobile subscriber base. However, internet and broadband penetration have been pegged at about 8% as of mid-last year. Broadband speeds have also been quite poor when compared to global averages of around 5 Mbps in developed countries while other developing nations offer 1.5 Mbps speeds. Despite all efforts to improve service levels, India's connectivity status remained at #21 (global ranking) for the second year on the Connectivity Scorecard 2011. With 3G hardly picking up, India may simply choose to land up directly with 4G later this year that can deliver mobile broadband services on either WiMax or LTE.
While WiMax has already been in operation since 2006 in other parts of the world, LTE is a recent technology that offers theoretically very high spectrum efficiency and data speeds (100 Mbps in download and 50 Mbps in uploads). Both these options offer high speeds and improved user-experiences, making the choice a difficult one. At present LTE seems to be the preferred technology for 4G services. LTE is based on 3GPP standards, which is an advancement or extension over 2G and 3G standards, making it backward compatible over existing 2G and 3G networks. Having spent huge sums of money on 3G licensing and rollout, telecom operators may well employ these existing networks to deliver 4G services at minimum investments as far as infrastructure costs are concerned. A few telecom operators are also of the opinion that the different blocks of 20 MHz spectrum identified by TRAI for 4G services in the 700 MHz and the 2.5-2.6 gigahertz band are more suited to LTE services than WiMax services.
Frost & Sullivan analysis on the choice of technology WiMax or LTE reveals that the decision is driven by several factors including network legacies, technology preference, global trends, regulatory procedures, financial considerations, and market demand. LTE presents itself as an efficient technology with several advantages spanning spectrum flexibility, high speeds, minimized costs, and low-latency (10 to 20 ms), all blending well to promise a great user-experience. These factors coupled with the poor broadband penetration and speeds and growing use of mobile devices and applications, generate the need for quality mobile broadband services, driving LTE adoption in India
LTE however is still in its initial stages with several grey areas on common standards for devices, voice over LTE, global roaming etc. making it slightly vulnerable as far as the voice front is concerned. WiMax on the other hand can be integrated with 3G as well as 4G to work in tandem and provide the best of voice and data services.
Choice of technology matters most as far as operators are concerned. Airtel and Reliance have their 4G plans well in place. Airtel and Aircel with BWA licenses in 12 circles could do a good job on LTE using their existing networks. While few telecom operators also offer WiMax on 3.3 GHz, the service is limited to select enterprise clients at select cities only. Present trends only seem to indicate that India may bypass 3G and bounce directly to 4G on TD-LTE.
About the author : Lakshmi.A is a Contributing Editor for TradeBriefs. She can be reached at