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4G wait till early next year
TECH SHIFT

New Delhi, July 24: High-speed mobile and Internet services, using fourth-generation (4G) technology, will be rolled out only by early next year as operators are still in talks with equipment vendors.

Operators are expected to finalise contracts by the third quarter of 2011 (October-December) and start rolling out services by early 2012, “when consumer demand and operator ecosystem will be in place”.

“By the end of this year, the entire ecosystem for effective rollout of 4G in India will be in place, including handsets, data cards and networks,” said Ying Weimin, president of GSM, UMT and LTE network at Huawei.

Long-term evolution (LTE) technology, or 4G, allows data downloads at higher speeds. Essentially, a four-minute song can be downloaded in four seconds.

Beginning with metros and high revenue earning circles, 4G is expected to spread to other towns and cities and attain pan-India coverage over a period of two years.

“The business model that is emerging is that operators will sign up 2-3 equipment vendors and give rollout contracts for different telecom circles,” said an operator gearing up to launch 4G. The potential deal size is expected to range between $250 million and $4 billion for a single contract.

According to industry experts, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries-owned Infotel, being the only pan-India 4G player, is expected to set the trend in service rollout and tariffs.

“All operators are waiting to see how Infotel forges alliances with vendors and deploys the new technology,” experts said.

Infotel has won licences in 22 circles. Others to bag licences are Aircel (8), Bharti Airtel and Qualcomm (4), Delhi-based Tikona (5) and UK-based Augere (1).

Mukesh Ambani is likely to align Infotel’s rollout with the global 4G road map, under which countries such as the US, South Africa and Latin America will go live between 2011-end and mid-2012, experts said.

Though the migration of millions of mobile users to the 4G network will initially be slow because of the lack of affordable LTE-enabled handsets and devices, industry players are optimistic about a fast uptake.

“Prices will gradually decrease as more subscribers opt for LTE. We experienced a surge in 2G and 3G mobile telephony with reduction in handset prices. The same can be expected of LTE in a shorter period because of the rapidly maturing ecosystem,” said Mark Atkinson, head of global LTE sales at Nokia Siemens Network.

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