India 4G Update: Reliance, Tikona, Airtel & More
India hasn’t quite taken up to 3G services yet, but it’s already ready for 4G. Unlike 3G services, there are few service providers for 4G. In an auction of airwaves which fetched the Indian government some US$ 8.25 billion, Reliance Industries (Infotel), Bharti Airtel, Aircel, Qualcomm and Augere gained the shares of the spectrum in various circles. Reliance gained for all 22 circles and Augere for just one circle. The rest fall in between.
Of these five players, Qualcomm and Augere haven’t made any noise about their launch plans. In fact, Qualcomm wanted to sell its spectrum in 4 circles to Airtel. Luckily for Airtel, Qualcomm and Airtel have licenses in different circles. In all likelihood, Airtel will get Qualcomm’s spectrum. Aircel, the other dominant player with spectrum allocation in 8 circles, has also been mum about its 4G plans.
Bharti Airtel, Reliance and Tikona have either made announcements or launched their services. Let’s look at them.
Airtel became the first service provider in the country to launch 4G services. It launched in the Kolkata circle. Airtel partnered with ZTE for equipment and services. Airtel has spectrum allocated in 3 other circles — Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab.
Airtel’s 4G rate plans are noteworthy. It offers a Rs. 999 (US$ 19) plan for a free download limit of 6 GB. Beyond 6 GB, the speed will drop down to 128 kbps. Airtel’s 4G services promises theoretical speeds from 100 MBPS to 1 GBPS. While that kind of speed might not be possible in the real world, it could offer above 4 MBPS, which is what most of India’s broadband users are used to. Dropping from such high speed to a paltry 128 kbps seems unreasonable. There are other plans from Airtel. The maximum download limit is 18 GB which costs Rs. 1999 (US$ 38) per month.
These plans by Airtel are much better than the 3G plans, where there is no way to track the usage. Beyond a certain usage the new charges will apply without the user being notified.
Airtel acknowledges, though, that there is a dearth of 4G devices in its current offering, but plans to launch 4G MiFi devices. The new iPad — which is LTE compliant — doesn’t work with India’s 4G frequencies, however.
Reliance, which holds licenses in 22 circles through its Infotel brand, has partnered with Huawei and Alcatel Lucent for devices and network rollout. Reliance is also planning to set-up 100,000 telecom towers exclusively for its 4G launch.
Reliance has the option to piggy-back on existing towers, but has chosen to launch its own towers. The launch of its 4G services is expected by end of this year. Reliance is also rumored to launch a 4G tablet to go with its services.
Tikona Digital, the other prominent player, has announced its plans to spend Rs 1,000 crore (US$ 190 million) in the next two years to launch its data offerings on 4G/LTE networks. Tikona holds licenses in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
The 700 MHz Twist
The 700 MHz band is believed to be thrice efficient as the 2,300 MHz band that was auctioned in 2010. The Indian government will auction this spectrum for broadband wireless. This is the spectrum which the New iPad also uses. Given what we have seen so far in the auctions, I don’t expect the new auctions to happen without ruckus.
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