In India, 3G and 4G spectrum auction took place back in 2010, and 3G networks went live within an year. However, we have been waiting for 4G networks and its mass deployment from the past 5 years. Back then, 3G was seen as promising technology for mobile data until smartphone revolution demanded better data speed, which 3G could not deliver.
Why it took so long?
As they always say, the blame was on the “ecosystem” for not being mature and the Indian 4G LTE-TDD was not deployed anywhere else in the world. Then came the 2G scam, which hit the Indian telecom industry so bad, that many companies were debt-ridden after years of pricing wars. The incumbent operators started recovering after the cancellation of 122 telecom licenses by the Supreme Court and reduced the competition in the telecom space. Soon, operators soon witnessed that their traditional revenue streams such as SMS and voice calls were drying since consumers started using data through apps like WhatsApp. Now, operators are all set to capture the rising data market with premium data service such as 3G and 4G.
Smartphone Ecosystem Evolved
4G was delayed all these years due to the lack of availability of smartphones supporting Indian 4G band (2300MHz). Developed 4G market such as the US and Europe got their first 4G network in as early as 2010, and most earlier 4G smartphones were designed with 4G specifications that were not compatible with Indian 4G LTE bands. Starting in 2015, smartphones equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, the Snapdragon 615, and the Snapdragon 810 chipsets came with native support for 4G LTE-FDD and LTE-TDD bands that are used in India. This has revolutionised the Indian smartphone space with almost 90 percent smartphones launched in 2015 supporting both 2300MHz and 1800MHz 4G bands in India.
Airtel once burned its hands in 2012 when it launched the countries first 4G network in Bangalore and Kolkata. It was not prepared for the 4G launch on LTE-TDD technology, which didn’t had proper coverage or handset support at the time. Further it was damn expensive with respect to the cost of devices as well as the tariff and data plans. In the recent months, Airtel reduced 4G data rates, matching them with 3G prices, and started offering 4G handsets from Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi. With enough 1800MHz spectrum bagged from the recent auction, Airtel has launched 4G across 290 cities. Still, Airtel is marketing 4G as a replacement for 3G or an updated version of 3G, which offer slightly more speed at the same rates.
Also read: Airtel 4G plan details
The most-awaited player in 4G LTE space, Reliance Jio, has been preparing for the past 5 years to enter the Indian telecom space with world-class 4G service. For this, Relaince Jio has been building PAN-India optical fibre network, and has sealed a tower sharing deal with almost every tower company in India. In the meantime, it has also added spectrum in 1800MHz and 800MHz bands to its arsenal. With an estimated investment of Rs. 1,00,000 crore, Reliance Jio makes itself one of the largest telecom company in India even before its consumer launch.
For Jio, its not just about 4G internet service, but a bouquet of service ranging from telecom, high-speed data to digital commerce, media and payment services. For this, it has recently acquired a media house, Network18, and bagged MSO & Payments Bank licence.
Also read: Reliance Jio Green towers
Vodafone, a global leader in the 4G LTE space with around 24.10 million 4G LTE users on its networks across 18 markets around the world, has announced its plans to start offering 4G LTE services in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Kochi by the end of December 2015. It had acquired enough 4G spectrum in these circles in earlier auctions.
Realising the massive growth in the data market and an imminent danger of rivals poaching into its market share, Idea has advanced its plans to launch 4G LTE services from 2017 to March 2016. Earlier, Idea had won enough 4G spectrum in 8 key markets – Kerala, Maharashtra & Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Haryana, and North East – to launch 4G LTE service in India.
With his big brother going all guns blazing with 4G LTE services, Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Communications wants to enter 4G race as well with an intent to launch 4G LTE services in 2016. However, it won’t be easy for RCOM like other operators who already have enough liberalised 4G spectrum. It is certain that RCOM will deploy 4G in the 850MHz band which it currently holds across India. After wining 850MHz in the recent auction, the company has 5MHz spectrum that is enough for 4G services. The problem is that Reliance has to pay over Rs 11,000 cores to Government to liberalise it for 4G use. RCOM is also in advanced talks with MTS for a merger which would give RCOM enough spectrum to launch 4G. It is also close to sealing a spectrum sharing deal with Reliance Jio, which would befit both companies to launch 4G on 850MHz.
BSNL has finally realised that it cannot have a sustainable future in this ever evolving data market without offering 4G telecom services. It has announced its plans to launch 4G services by March 2016. BSNL was one of the first operator in India, along with MTNL, to receive 4G spectrum in as early as 2009. Back then, called BWA (Broadband Wireless Access), BSNL went for WiMax technology over Qualcomm-backed LTE, which later become the benchmark technology for 4G across the globe. BSNL's WiMax failed even before it was widely available as it was expensive and the coverage was very bad. Later, BSNL surrendered its 4G spectrum in 6 circles and MTNL in its two operating circles.
The wait is finally over. 4G is here!
After a long period of 6 years, 4G services will be launched by Reliance Jio followed by incumbent operators in 2016. 4G LTE is all set to revolutionise the Indian telecom space along with lives of many Indian citizens, and it will play a crucial rule in building Digital India.