New Delhi, April 3: Hard to believe in this bleak season but Calcutta is indeed set to launch a revolution this month.
The city will be the epicentre of the broadband revolution with telecom giant Bharti Airtel preparing to launch the country’s first 4G service later this month.
“It (4G services) will be launched this month in the City of Joy,” Bharti Airtel CEO Sanjay Kapoor said on sidelines of a GSMA event.
The city is once again being cast in its all-too-familiar role as the place that ignites tectonic changes in our lives that the rest of India soon latches on to. But don’t ask what happened the day after and long after that.
This is the third revolution that Calcutta will spawn on the airwaves. Back on July 31, 1995, the city ushered in the mobile phone revolution when then chief minister Jyoti Basu used a clunky handset to make the country’s first cellular call to telecom minister Sukhram over Modi Telstra’s MobileNet.
Still further back in 1850-51, the country’s first telegraph line was established in Calcutta, linking the capital of British India to Diamond Harbour.
Never mind that other metros have pulled past the city since then.
The 4G launch promises to whip up the next digital storm in our lives that will redefine the way that a gizmo-crazy nation consumes data, entertainment and a wide range of digital services.
4G technology holds out the promise of Internet speeds that are 10 times faster than typical third-generation networks, providing faster mobile web access, high definition mobile TV, better quality video conferencing and 3D movies on mobile.
Subscribers would need smartphones or tablets compatible with 4G technology to be able to enjoy the full benefits of the service.
Bharti Airtel, which won broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum in the four circles of Calcutta, Maharashtra, Punjab and Karnataka in a heavily contested auction in May 2010, will be hoping that it will gain first-mover advantage. It had forked out Rs 3,314.36 crore for the licences at the auction.
Sources say Chinese gear maker ZTE is supplying the 4G equipment and managing operations in Calcutta for Airtel. Analysts said they expected Airtel to establish small cells at different places of the city to provide better coverage.
At the Mobile World Congress held late February in Barcelona, Bharti Airtel said it had appointed Nokia Siemens Networks to manage its TD-LTE network in Maharashtra. It is believed to have picked Huawei of China for the Karnataka region and Sweden’s Ericsson for Punjab.
Reliance-owned Infotel Broadband, the only player to bag a pan-Indian footprint with 22 BWA licences, plans to roll out its 4G service in the second half of this year.
Qualcomm, with eight BWA licences and the only other serious player, has been forced to push back its rollout after being stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire over approvals for its subsidiaries that will run the operations in the country.
Chennai-based Aircel has eight licences including one for the West Bengal circle, Delhi-based Tikona has five and UK-based Augere one circle.
State-owned BSNL and MTNL were allocated one slot of BWA spectrum in their respective circles on payment of amount equivalent to the highest bidder in the service area.
The 4G service providers will be using the latest LTE (long-term evolution) technology. The LTE format was first proposed by NTT DoCoMo of Japan and has been adopted as the international standard.
The first LTE commercial services were launched in Sweden and Norway in December 2009, followed by the US and Japan in 2010. More LTE networks were deployed globally during 2010 as a natural evolution of 2G and 3G systems.
The migration of mobile telecom users to 4G networks could be slow and will depend crucially on the price of the handsets and other devices, and the pricing plans for the service. Airtel will make the price announcements closer to launch.
Operators are betting on providing pan-India 4G data services like HD (high definition) video blogging, Internet TV and online gaming which is expected to open up new revenue opportunities at a time their earnings have been crimped.
“The aggressive uptake of wireless broadband (4G) is expected to play a pivotal role in generating revenues, especially in a country such as India, where large parts of the country still lack connectivity,” said Prashant Singhal, telecom industry leader, Ernst & Young.
In recent years, mobile service providers have been worried over flat revenue growth, even as they report impressive additions to subscriber numbers.