BWA Auction For 700 MHz Will Be Fierce

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BWA Auction For 700 MHz Will Be FierceRight now, 3G (HSPA) is neither a choice for affordable wireless broadband, nor a choice for last mile connectivity in rural areas.

But if everything goes perfect, we can see affordable broadband with wireless access a reality. Because Govt plans for another bonanza - conducting auction for 700Mhz band.

India has about 108 units of airwaves in the 700 MHz band 50% of which is used by Doordarshan, 36 units are used by armed forces and remaining 24 MHz is held by other government agencies.

Govt. of India plans to auction 700MHz spectrum in 2012, following digitalization of Doordarshan at the end of 2011. Defence forces may also vacate spectrum in 700 Mhz band along with 45MHz spectrum (of which 25MHz is 3G spectrum) following the roll out of optic fibre cable (OFC) made by BSNL.

It also starts tussle between DoT and ministry of Information and Broadcast regarding vacating of this airwave. Ministry of I&B claimed that the spectrum in 700 Mhz is reserved for public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD). But it is expected I&B ministry will come to a point and DoT has to bear the expenses of digitalization of Doordarshan like they did to roll out OFC for defence forces.

LTE rollout on 700Mhz band can revolutionize growth of internet in India, as due to lower frequencies it can propagate and penetrate better and can offer more spectrally efficient service (due to more bits/Hz). LTE base on 2.3 Ghz can cover around 2-5 Km radius area while LTE base on 700Mhz can cover upto 15Km radius area. The higher band is better for high capacity, dense deployments.

Even cost of LTE roll out on 700 Mhz will be one-third of LTE on 2.3GHz. For these reasons LTE on 700 Mhz is better choice for wireless broadband in rural areas. Verizon recently announced that test runs on its LTE network using 700 MHz spectrum was giving peak speeds of around 25Mbps.

This auction will also kill the dream of WiMAX forum to roll out WiMAX in India. As technically TD-LTE is the choice of technology for this band. Importantly LTE ecosystem is getting stronger day by day, after one year of commercial roll out in Norway & Sweden now there are 19 LTE networks up and running, with 6 smartphones, 6 notebooks/netbooks, 7 mobile tablets, and 22 modules expected to be available this year. Currently BSNL & Reliance are only players offering WiMaX in selected areas, and BSNL's plan to roll out WiMAX on a franchiese basis has been under controvercy.

Largest private telco, Bharti Airtel (got BWA license in just 4 circles) is lobbying for auction of this band. It has stated openly that its 4G strategy will rest mainly on future allocations in 700MHz and FDD 2.5GHz along with experiment with these four circles.

It is expected loosers of 3G/BWA auction like Tata Tele, Vodafone, Idea Cellular (aims to be a pan India ISP) and Telenor/Uninor (who did not take part in 3G auction), Sistema/MTS (given they prioritze data services) will also take part in it. Even Infotel, current pan India BWA winner on 2.3GHz band which is now subsidiary of Mukesh Ambani headed Reliance Industries is expected to participate it. In 2008, the US government raised close to $20 billion by auctioning three blocks of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. Indian government can expect more because of the fierce competition between more players.

But it is also obvious that private telcos has little social responsibilities like BSNL has, and they will not go for rural wireless broadband. Whatever auction happens or not, I strongly believe BSNL must be awarded 700 Mhz airwave to roll out LTE specially for rural areas to bring wireless broadband to the remote parts of the country.

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