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China tips it in TDD LTE’s favour

Posted in Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on February 17, 2014

China recently allocated TD LTE licenses to its carriers on the 2300MHz band. This is a significant event in the technology life cycle of LTE as TD LTE develops as mainstream standard and is set to massify on the global scale. The debate between TD and FD LTE has hovered around the lines of GSM versus CDMA and the emergence of one technology as the dominant standard. However, with technology and eco-system maturities, TD LTE emergence alongside FD LTE is now seen as a complementing effort and effect. This would create technology inter-operability between TD and FD LTE.

Why is the China LTE launch key to LTE eco-system world over?

China LTE implementation is all about scale – China Mobile for instance has deployed 200K BTSs for the LTE pilot covering 500 million people initially. That’s the size of the whole of Europe put together. The number of 4G base stations is expected to increase to 500K by the end of 2014. In addition, China Mobile is set to offer more than 200 different 4G-compatible handsets this year, including a handset priced at CNY 1,000 ($165) and a number of self-branded 4G devices. Apple’s iPhone portfolio has also recently been made available to China Mobile customers. Similarly, China Telecom plans to launch entry-level 4G smartphones at similar prices to its rival in the first half of the year before introducing mid-range and high-end models before year-end. By this time it expects to have 60,000 4G base stations. In contrast, China Unicom confirmed in December 2013 that although it has been issued a licence for TD-LTE (like its rivals), but it remains focused on running the majority of its 4G network via FDD-LTE – for which it is yet to receive a license. It is likely we will see a rather slower start to the 4G era for China Unicom.

China mobile connections by technology generation, 2000–2020

China mobile connections by technology generation, 2000–2020

With such large-scale rollouts underway, China Mobile and China Telecom will have the fastest initial 4G migration rates seen outside of South Korea, with close to 10% of their combined total connections migrating to 4G by the end of this year. According to new GSMA Intelligence, take-up of 4G-LTE in China will happen twice as fast as the earlier move to 3G HSPA networks. By contrast, it took twice as long for China Mobile and China Telecom to migrate their 2G customers (on GSM and CDMA2000 1x networks, respectively) on their 3G networks (TD-SCDMA and CDMA2000 EV-DO) following launch. For example, it took China Mobile 14 quarters to migrate 10% of its 2G connections base to 3G, but it will take approximately half that time to reach the same milestone in the move from 3G to 4G. Subscribers are estimated at 900 million 4G connections in the China by the end of 2020, up from around 100 million this year.

It is important to note that FDD and TDD LTE are two flavours of what is essentially the same standard, marking a different situation to when two technology standards (GSM/HSPA and CDMA) were competing for 2G and 3G hegemony. The availability of dual-mode FDD-TDD chipsets help mobile operators running either LTE variant to offer a wider choice of attractive 4G devices. Device manufacturers can therefore generate greater economies of scale given that dual-mode FDD-TDD chipsets remove the need to create multiple variants, serving to lower costs. Currently TD LTE accounts just over one in 40 LTE connections globally. However, China Mobile, China Telecom, Reliance Jio and Airtel could alter these TD LTE subscriber numbers by a wide margin. Even though there could be more instances of FD LTE launches by operators, number of subs on TD LTE networks could outweigh those on FD networks.

Is there a Business case for LTE in India? (Part II)

Posted in Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on October 22, 2011

This post is the second of a two part series on the scenario around LTE network deployments in India.Read First post here

Aircel and Bharti Airtel are believed to be targeting the enterprise segment. While the enterprise segment are the biggest in terms of data usage, the success of LTE will depend on the fact that there has to be a compelling reason for large enterprises to move to LTE network.Initial traction on Data services will depend on how well the vertical applications are engineered for key industry verticals. Verticals like healthcare and banking, which have to be always-on are likely to be the early adopters of LTE, provided applications are developed around them. In case this happens, it might be possible to expect a much higher ARPU from LTE. Having said that, going by the 3G experience, it is quite clear that price is going to be a critical factor (if not the deciding factor!) for the uptake of BWA services.

Further to this, the government needs to put in place a telecom policy that could be instrumental in regulatory guidance and support which would impact faster roll-outs of the services at reasonable tariffs. Unlike 3G auction mechanism, where spectrum licences were bought by operators had extremely high bids leaving precious little CAPEX for network roll outs and resulting in high and unreasonable tariffs (for recovery of investment), government needs to play a more inclusive role in successful 4G LTE roll outs. In the 3G auction case, the only winner was the government who made a handsome lot through the bidding process. This time, the government could keep the bids controlled, lease the spectrum, sponsor the networks infrastructure (or cost share) and foster network infrastructure sharing arrangements between the service providers. This would leave a pool for the Telecom sector where investments could be made into value added ancillary services which would promote usage of the network.

Besides enterprise segments, some operators might also be looking at the rural market initially for LTE services. Experts believe that it will be sometime before Indian operators expect returns from this new service. They might have made huge investments, but right now it is unclear as to how long the investment will take to make profit.

Is there a Business case for LTE in India? (Part I)

Posted in Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on October 20, 2011

This post is the first of a two part series on the scenario around LTE network deployments in India.

Ten years of trailblazing performances and more, the Indian Telecom story needs a new super hero. This is necessitated by the demands of the bandwidth starved data hungry customers are placing an inordinate amount of pressure on the spectrum. The Indian government has been instrumental and forward planning to meet the challenges of increased data bandwidths. That is where 4G LTE services hold out a promise to provide super speed technology on high bandwidth spectrum.

Despite the initial success in field trials, a key question facing the operators is the financial viability and the unclear business models surrounding this emerging technology. Though the industry remains gung-ho about the potential of LTE TDD, it is imperative that the industry evaluates certain critical factors to decide on the business case of the technology. Of the 160 million broadband connections expected by the end of 2014, a good percentage is to come from LTE services which is expected to drive 60 per cent of next level mobile broadband growth.

However, post the lukewarm response to 3G, experts believe that operators need to have a viable business model, clear go-to-market strategy and a marketing campaign designed to target specific segments, niches and user segments of the society to make a business case from the soon-to-be launched Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) technology. There has to be a proper strategy in place to make sure that all investment-related decisions (for LTE TDD) are being taken after due consideration. Operators are yet to make 3G a true business case in India, and if proper targets are not set, many operators may find it challenging to survive.

Contrarian to the earlier view, analysts also believe, what works in favor of operators in India is the relative lukewarm response to 3G, which leaves a lot of scope for LTE to make headway. However, on the flip-side, discouraging numbers for 3G uptake is likely to have some impact on LTE roll-out as well. If 3G has been unable to set the mobile broadband segment on fire in the country, what is it that LTE would offer which will make customers embrace it.

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