The Who’s Who On India’s 4G Circuit

Indian telecom sector is eagerly looking at 4G services to explore new and exciting opportunities for growth. While the last twelve months have been turbulent for the industry in the wake of 2G license cancellations and the Government’s perplexed approach, the bigwigs are now up in arms to get the biggest slice of the 4G cake.

Since a lot has been tried and tested by operators while launching 3G services a couple of years ago, this time the industry is expected to take an aggressive yet realistic approach. There is no contention to the fact that the revenues from voice have stagnated and data is the future. The uptake of data-based applications and availability of budget smart phones is only increasing in the country.
With 4G technology offering higher speeds, the usage of high-speed broadband is expected to gain footing across various verticals like banking, health and automobiles. Not to forget an untapped opportunity in small and medium enterprises. A lot of custom cloud based applications can be developed for the benefit of enterprises.
This will provide an exciting opportunity for telcos to come up with innovative business plans. The next twelve months are likely to see a number of developments around the launch of 4G services in the country. All the service providers who hold the 4G license are devising business strategies to have an advantage.
Here is a look at the strategies and launch plans formed by various service providers in India:

Bharti Airtel
Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) is known for its leadership initiatives. The country's top telecom operator has launched 4G services in the cities of Kolkata, Bengaluru and Pune.
The company has 4G spectrum in four circles and has also acquired a 49 percent stake inQualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s Asia Pacific's Indian broadband wireless access (BWA) entities who has BWA licences to offer 4G data services in four circles of Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala. That makes it potentially eligible to offer 4G services in eight circles, provided it buys a controlling stake in Qualcomm's BWA entity.
In addition, the telco has pan-India 2G operations and 3G licenses in 13 circles. The company also scores well on the customer service front. It has also taken initiatives like launching the country's biggest Network Operations Center (NOC) to strengthen its lead further. To ensure the device availability for 4G, the company has collaborated with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. for the yet-to-be-available LTE handheld device, Ascend P1 smartphone.
Going by the sources, the company currently has around 25,000 4G subscribers. While the current subscriber base is nothing to boast about, it definitely gives Airtel a base to understand the consumer psyche. That can be a good learning ground before the market enters into the competition zone.
The company is also on course to tackle the biggest challenge of offering voice on LTE. It has already conducted trails on CS Fallback (CSFB) technology. CS Fallback uses the LTE network for data only, while retaining the existing 2G and 3G networks for traditional circuit-switched voice services.

Reliance Jio Infocomm
Reliance Jio Infocomm (Earlier Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) ) is the only owner of pan-India BWA spectrum and the industry observers are keenly looking at the developments around its 4G launch. The company does not have 2G or 3G spectrum and hence is evaluating voice-over-LTE to offer voice services to consumers.
The sources suggest that it is all set to start 4G services in the top 40 cities, starting with the metros by June-July this year. The company had bought majority stake in Infotel, the pan India winner for 4G spectrum in 2010.
In order to ensure success, the company is also exploring partnerships with ecosystem players. It has recently announced partnership with Russia-based voice- and video-over-IP engines providerSpirit DSP to offer voice- and video-over-IP (VVIP) on its upcoming LTE-TDD networks. RIL is said to be investing $10 billion in its LTE network.
The company's VoLTE hopes got a further boost post the Telecom Commission's announcement to permit Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum holders to launch voice services on their 4G network by paying INR 1,658 crore ($306 million) to launch voice services.

Tikona Digital
In 2010, Tikona Digital Networks Pvt. Ltd. won the BWA spectrum in the five circles of Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh (East) and Uttar Pradesh (West), which together cover 31 percent population of India, for over INR 10.5 billion. The company is planning to launch its 4G services sometime later this year or in early 2014.
The company is believed to have conducted all trials and has also shortlisted vendors Ericsson AB(Nasdaq: ERIC)(Nasdaq: ERIC) and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) for network equipments to roll out services. The vendor is exploring all options including raising debt and strategic partners to effectively roll out its LTE-TDD services.

Aircel Ltd. has BWA spectrum in eight circles and 3G spectrum in 13 circles. While it is expected to roll out 4G services in the current year, there is no confirmation over the exact launch date.
It has 4G spectrum in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu (including Chennai), West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, North-East, Jammu & Kashmir. In 3G, it has spectrum in 13 circles: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (including Chennai) Kerala, Punjab, UP (East), West Bengal, Kolkata, Bihar and Jharkhand, Assam, Orissa, North East, and Jammu & Kashmir.

Videocon Telecommunications
Videocon Telecommunications Ltd. recently won libralised spectrum in the six circles of Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh (East), Uttar Pradesh (West), Bihar and Jharkhand. The company has announced to use the libralised spectrum in the 1800-MHz band to roll out LTE services by adapting a highly spectrum-efficient 4G technology based on Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD) LTE in the second half of 2013.
Presently, all the other 4G license holders in the country have adopted Time-Division LTE technology for 4G services. By using 4G technology based on FDD-LTE, Videocon Telecommunications could have an advantage over the competition in the country, given that the 4G ecosystem has more devices based on FDD-LTE technology.
Earlier, the experts did not perceive the company as a serious player in the India market and it was assumed by many that Videocon would exit the segment once its licenses were cancelled in February 2012. However, the company decided to participate in the 1800 MHz auctions held in November and secured licenses for six circles.

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