We have written extensively about this topic which has become somewhat of a suspense drama. Despite the enormous potential, the disappointments keep coming.
Here is the latest: BSNL halts renewed WiMAX tender
India owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has again deferred its plans to issue a tender for potential WiMAX franchisees, according to the Hindu Business Line. Having been forced to abandon its initial tender after it was revealed that five of the six bidders shortlisted existed only on paper, BSNL delayed its target date for relaunching the tender to 24 June 2009. It is now understood that the date has been postponed indefinitely. BSNL has said it will reveal a new target date ‘soon’, but it first intends to settle the terms and conditions under which potential partners will operate in a bid to streamline the tender process and avoid confusion. One area that BSNL has clarified is that franchisees will not have to pay a one-time upfront fee; it is expected instead that operators rolling out WiMAX services using BSNL’s spectrum will over a period of time pay towards BSNL’s costs incurred in acquiring the frequencies.
When it does finally launch the tender, BSNL will invite bids in 16 circles, and if it retains previous conditions for bidding, only those companies with a turnover of over INR1 billion (USD20.5 million) for two consecutive financial years will be able to apply.
Soma Networks on India: "We don’t see a huge mobile WiMAX market"
WiMAX-based broadband services are expected to boost India’s broadband penetration. While the private operators are awaiting auction of spectrum by the Government to roll out the technology, SOMA Networks is the first company in India to have deployed WiMax through a franchisee model partnership with state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. eWorld caught up with Yatish Pathak, Founder & CEO, SOMA Networks, to understand the future of this technology in India. Excerpts from the chat:
Is WiMAX suited best for mobile broadband or for broadband to home?
One of the reasons that SOMA Networks chose to use WiMAX 802.16e-2005 technology, also called Mobile WiMAX, is that it supports mobile broadband as well as has the capability to provide wireless broadband to homes and offices. However, its application depends on the context and availability of competing technologies. In an emerging market such as India with vast areas under-served due to lack of wired infrastructure or due to sub-optimal DSL connections (slow speeds), the best use of WiMAX today is to deliver broadband to the homes and businesses that have no broadband, or poor broadband connectivity.
Using WiMAX as a mobile broadband application is better suited for developed, more mature markets that have high data consumption. Classic examples are Tokyo and Korea.
Given that Indian operators will not get more than 5Mhz spectrum for 3G, do you think that there will be more takers for WiMAX for providing mobile broadband services? It is an interesting possibility. Instead of few operators getting enough spectrum to run 3G, we have more operators getting lesser spectrum and given that they will dedicate most of its capacity to voice which is their cash-cow, they will be left with very little capacity for data. As a result, some of them will look at WiMAX to provide mobile broadband services.
If an operator decides to use WiMAX to target the laptop user market, then it will simply be a service such as EV-DO, but with higher data rates. However, if the operator decides to use WiMAX for mobile data on cell-phones, then such a service would require it to invest in and run two separate networks – an FDD network for 3G and a TDD network for WiMAX. Besides, the service will require dual mode phones (GSM + WiMAX) that will support both FDD and TDD. The support for two different types of radios will make the handsets cost-prohibitive for Indian consumers, until there is service acceptance and we see economies of scale.
Given the huge investments made by all the large Indian operators in GSM it would be fair to assume that they will continue to evolve their network towards LTE to address the mobile broadband need of consumers over time and as the business case becomes stronger. It is more likely that they will opt for WiMAX deployments in select high traffic business districts/cities to address enterprise customers as has been the trend amongst several big global operators as well.
Even in India, Reliance and Tatas have deployed WiMAX technology for broadband selectively and their initial emphasis is not on mobility, but fixed WiMAX.
So we are left in a no-man’s land, where the potential and promise of WiMAX in India has yet to be fulfilled. Do you think it will ever happen? If so, will it only be for fixed wireless access or will there be any meaningful mobile WiMAX deployed?