BENGALURU, India Leading operators are working together to deploy WiMax networks across India as they await government action on allocating more wireless spectrum.
Tata Teleservices recently announced a major WiMax deployment, including a $500 million investment over the next five years. The new network will cover more than 130 cities, intensifying competition across India.
Reliance, which operates India's largest CDMA network of over 30 million subscribers, has already launched commercial WiMax services here and in Pune. Company sources said Reliance plans to buy over 1 million units of customer premise equipment (CPE) over the next year.
BSNL, India's largest telecommunications company, is partnering with Soma Networks in a revenue-sharing deal to deploy another WiMax network that would exceed 1,000 basestations and 100,000 CPEs.
Bharti Airtel said it will deploy WiMax nets to 300 towns while Internet service provider Aircel, which provides WiMax-based backhaul services in south India, also plans to expand.
Other providers with WiMax plans include Sify, MTNL, HCL Infinet and Railtel.
According to market researcher Maravedis-Tonse Telecom, wireless broadband will take off in India this year. "Genuine Indian innovation is at work as vendors, operators and system integrators are coming together like never before to work with whatever is available to trigger a bandwidth revolution," said CEO Sridhar T. Pai.
Despite governemnt delays in allocating additional spectrum, leading operators are moving ahead with network deployment. Most are using spectrum from earlier government allocations while awaiting new wireless spectrum. According to sources close to the government, India may release new spectrum by June of this year.
In 2008, the Indian wireless network equipment market is estimated to reach as high as $120 million, a substantial jump over 2007 that could signify India's emergence as a top WiMax market, said Pai.
Deployment here could be aided by the roll out of Intel's WiMax chip codenamed Echo Peak. Based on its Montevina platform for notebooks, the wireless chip is expected to arrive here in June.
According to Lil Mohan, managing director of emerging markets for Intel India's WiMax unit, "We are working with hardware manufacturers globally as well as the service providers here in India to make WiMax commercially viable."
Several WiMax-related startups have also emerged. U.S.-based Telsima is working with Tata Teleservices on its WiMax deployment; Sloka Telecom, a startup based here which has been building WiMax networks in France, Brazil and Indonesia, is also eyeing the Indian market.
Wolfgang Mack, Telsima's chief marketing officer, said: "Internationally, it is 2.5-GHz spectrum that is being used for WiMax. But here in India, except for BSNL, the other operators are offering their services in the 3.3 to 3.5 GHz [frequencies]. If there were more operators in the 2.5 GHz, the scale of deployment would be quicker."
Added Sloka Telecom CEO Sujai Karampuri, "With the prices coming down from $200 to [under] $100 for [equipment], competition is increasing in the WiMax domain."
The government is backing WiMax deployment "because it wants to increase the current broadband subscriber base of around 3 million users in India," adds Neha Gupta, a Gartner analyst tracking WiMax deployment here. "WiMax networks become more relevant in the rural areas where the cost of deployment" decreases.