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Qualcomm India: Bringing LTE-TDD to India

December 15, 2010
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This November, US-based chipmaker Qualcomm demonstrated long term evolution-time division duplex (LTE-TDD) mobility with seamless hand-off in India, in partnership with the Swedish equipment maker Ericsson. The demonstration was able to live-stream multiple high definition video feeds to a mobile van in the Gurgaon area, showing seamless connectivity between base stations, while maintaining session continuity. The trial was carried out using USB dongles based on Qualcomm’s multimode chipset that supports both LTE and 3G.

“The demonstration is a significant step towards the commercial availability of infrastructure and chipsets that will support both 3G and LTE-TDD in 2011,” says Kanwalinder Singh, president of Qualcomm India and South Asia.

Qualcomm is a big advocate of the technology and is conducting several LTE-TDD trials with operators and vendors across the world. The company is working with infrastructure players like Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Alcatel-Lucent for the commercial deployment of this technology.

In India, the company invested more than $1 billion to acquire broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum in four circles – Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala – in June 2010.

However, it has no plans to compete with the operators. “We never wanted to be an operator. We are a technology company and we want to do just that,” emphasises Singh. The company plans to partner with one or more 3G HSPA and/or EVDO operators for the construction of an LTE network and exit the BWA venture. “The talks with operators are ongoing but there is no set time frame to exit the service. It is up to the operators. We are open to the idea of an operator acquiring our stake or the operator wanting to launch services with Qualcomm holding the spectrum,” says Singh.

Meanwhile, it has formed separate companies in each of the circles where it has won spectrum. The enterprise value of the venture is about $1.11 billion, of which the equity portion is $222 million, while the remaining $888 million is debt. Tulip Telecom and Global Holdings have jointly picked up 26 per cent stake in the venture for about $58 million.

Background 

Headquartered in San Diego, USA, Qualcomm is a leading chipset developer and has been a pioneer of CDMA technology. The Fortune 500 company, with operations in 139 countries, was founded in July 1985. Qualcomm holds 12,600 US patents and pending patent applications for CDMA and related technologies.

With its recent launch of LTE chipsets that support both FDD and TDD, the company is clearly riding an upward trend. It has announced the availability of the MDM9x00 chipset solution, which will support both LTE-FDD and LTE-TDD, as prescribed by the standards, and interoperable with EVDO and HSPA.

Given the rapid mobile growth in the world’s fastest growing telecom market, India figures prominently in Qualcomm’s expansion plans. “The strategic importance of the Indian market for Qualcomm is extremely high given the current growth rate in the Indian telecom sector and the launch of 3G,” says Singh.

While the company has been present in India since 1996, more prominent work started only in 2002 and accelerated in 2004 with the growth of CDMA networks. R&D being an important component of its business, the company has also established a strong R&D base in India. In 2004, it acquired Spike Technologies, which is now its Bengaluru R&D centre. “It brought us chipset expertise, which enabled us to take our chipset capabilities to lower geometries,” says Singh. Today, with R&D centres in Bengaluru and Hyderabad (including a handset pre-certification lab in Hyderabad) and business offices in Delhi and Mumbai, the company has clearly grown from strength to strength.

Future strategy 

Until 2009, the company catered to about a third of the Indian telecom market with CDMA networks. But now, with GSM operators on the threshold of deploying 3G HSPA, it will be able to address 100 per cent of the market. “Our goal is to make sure that all the HSPA operators are extremely successful and consumers’ experience from a network, coverage and quality point of view is extremely good,” says Singh.

Given that the uptake of 3G and LTE-TDD will be dependent on the device ecosystem, a major area of focus for Qualcomm is hand-held devices, from low-end to smartphones, as well as computing devices and laptops. Qualcomm’s new chipsets that support these technologies have reportedly been bought by several handset and PC manufacturers.

According to Singh, “The PC penetration in India is low for two main reasons – affordability and complexity. So we are focusing on creating a next-generation computing device for India, especially one which leverages 3G mobile broadband and the internet cloud. We are looking at both mobile variants and the desktop variant, which we call the Kayak.” 

Continuing with its technological developments, Qualcomm is clearly gaining a firmer foothold in the Indian market. Whether it will be a key beneficiary of future growth will depend on the future of LTE-TDD in the country. However, with the largest holder of BWA spectrum in India, Reliance Industries Limited, settling for LTE, there is little uncertainty about the uptake of this technology.

 
 
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