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Technology Milestones: Focus on BWA after successful 3G launch

February 14, 2012
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The telecom technology space witnessed significant activity in the last one year. Through a major part of 2011, most operators were busy rolling out 3G networks. The initial thrust was on expediting 3G service launch, and operators later shifted their focus to improving the quality of services and driving adoption.

While 3G was launched in 2011, broadband wireless access (BWA) services are expected to be rolled out in the first half of 2012. In 2011, BWA licensees conducted extensive technology trials for long term evolution time division duplex (LTE TDD), which has emerged as the preferred platform for service rollout.

Bharti Airtel and Reliance Industries Limited (RIL)-owned Infotel Broadband are planning to launch BWA services in the first half of 2012. Aircel, Tikona and Augere, which have undertaken LTE

trials, are expected to launch services after RIL and Airtel. Meanwhile, state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has surrendered its BWA spectrum to the government.

The year also saw an increasing focus on emerging technologies like cloud computing and near field communication (NFC). According to industry analysts, NFC is one of the most promising M2M technologies. Also, most operators have already ventured into the cloud computing space or are planning to do so in 2012.

tele.net takes a look at the key technology developments in the telecom sector over the past year and the future deployment trends...


In the first half of 2011, Indian operators were busy deploying 3G networks. Being late entrants in the 3G segment, these companies could capitalise on the global experience in technology. Various 3G technology standards have been deployed globally by different operators. The most prevalent global standard is the universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS), which is based on the WCDMA interface (WCDMA and UMTS are often used interchangeably). UMTS is the 3G technology of choice for most carriers that are using GSM as their 2G platform.

Indian operators have also deployed UMTS standards. Since 2007, a series of enhancements to UMTS including HSDPA, HSUPA, HSPA and HSPA+ have been developed in various countries. These upgrades increase throughput and capacity, improve coverage and decrease system delays. For instance, HSDPA, also called 3.5G/3G+, increases the data transfer speed and capacity of networks based on UMTS.

Currently, HSDPA deployments support downlink speeds of 1.8 Mbps, 3.6 Mbps, 7.2 Mbps and 14 Mbps. 3.75G HSPA, a combination of HSUPA and HSDPA, improves the performance of WCDMA and can offer speeds of 21-28 Mbps. HSPA+, the latest UMTS release, offers peak data rates of up to 56 Mbps in the downlink in theory (28 Mbps in existing services) and 22 Mbps in the uplink.

Indian operators have deployed either HSDPA or HSPA+ or both for 3G networks. BSNL launched HSDPA services in 11 cities on February 27, 2009. In 2011, it started upgrading its 3G network in 760 cities from the HSDPA standards to HSPA+ with minimum speeds of 14.2 Mbps and maximum speeds of 21.1 Mbps. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) offers HSDPA-based 3G services under the 3G Jadoo brand. In August 2011, MTNL announced the upgradation of its 3G/UMTS users to 3.5G HSDPA in the Mumbai circle. The technology provides a download speed of 3.6 Mbps.

In November 2010, TATA DOCOMO launched its HSPA+ networks with theoretical download speeds of 21 Mbps, even though most of the base transceiver stations  are supported by HSDPA, which offers speeds of 3.6 Mbps. Reliance Communications  launched HSDPA-based services in December 2010. It has also rolled out HSPA+ on a part of its network to support speeds of 28 Mbps. Bharti Airtel is providing 3G on the HSDPA, supporting speeds of 3.6 Mbps. For the higher speed bands of 21 Mbps, the operator has deployed HSPA+-based 3G networks. Vodafone is providing services on HSDPA at 3.6 Mbps. For offering 21.1 Mbps speeds, the operator has deployed HSPA+ networks. Aircel has launched HSPA+ services with speeds of up to 21.1 Mbps.

Wireless technologies

Wireless communication networks are of three types, based on the distance they are meant to cover: wireless personal area networks (WPANs), wireless local area networks (WLANs), and wireless wide area networks (WWANs).

WLANs provide connections designed to integrate devices with wired networks. Unlike a wired LAN, WLANs do not require cabling to connect the device to a switch or router. WWANs are broadband data networks with a wider range, using cellular technologies such as GPRS, R99, HSPA, HSPA+, UMTS, 1xRTT, 1xEV-DO, Wi-Max and LTE. Wireless data devices connect to a wireless broadband network through a commercial carrier’s data network.

1xEV-DO is the broadband wireless network standard developed by the Third-Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2) as part of the CDMA2000 family of standards. The first EV-DO networks were based on Release 0 of the standard. The current standard is Revision A (Rev. A), which provides average download speeds of 600 kbps to 1.4 Mbps, and average upload speeds of 500-800 kbps, with low latency, typically between 150 milliseconds and 250 milliseconds. Rev. A also supports the framework for higher quality of service, and features peak download speeds of 3.1 Mbps and peak upload speeds of 1.8 Mbps.

The technology standards for 2G, 3G and 4G are GPRS, UMTS and 1xEV-DO; R99, HSPA and HSPA+; and LTE and Wi-Max respectively.


LTE, the latest standard in the technology evolution of both CDMA- and GSM-based data networks, supports both frequency division duplex (FDD) and TDD as well as flexible carrier bandwidths from below 5 MHz to up to 20 MHz. Two groups, the 3GPP, representing the family of networks referred to as GSM, and 3GPP2, representing the family of networks referred to as CDMA, are working together to lay the foundation for LTE.

Several major global wireless carriers have decided to support LTE as the foundation of their 4G network deployments. These companies – including Verizon Wireless, Vodafone, China Mobile, AT&T, China Telecom, KDDI, MetroPCS, NTT DOCOMO, and T-Mobile – plan to deploy LTE in the future.

Also, the six BWA spectrum winners in the Indian market (Bharti Airtel, Infotel Broadband, Tikona, Augere, Aircel and Qualcomm) have shown interest in adopting LTE as the 4G technology platform. BSNL and MTNL have also modified their agreements with technology vendors, which were initially supplying Wi-Max equipment to these operators.

The main advantages of LTE include high peak downlink speeds of 100 Mbps (20 MHz, 2x2 MIMO) – both indoors and outdoors – and uplink speeds of 50 Mbps. It is capable of supporting at least 200 active voice users for every 5 MHz. The platform has a low latency rate and offers four times more bandwidth as compared to current 3G (HSPA+) systems.


Another technology for providing mobile broadband is Wi-Max. Mobile Wi-Max is competing with LTE for being the preferred future (4G) mobile broadband technology. Both technologies use the same fundamental wireless standard, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing.

Wi-Max networks were launched in India about five years ago, but have failed to gain traction due to several reasons. The enterprise segment, and small and medium businesses are the only areas where these networks were deployed.

One of the key reasons for the slow growth is the technology’s backward incompatibility with existing 2G networks. This means that if a Wi-Max user is travelling in an area where only 2G networks are available, the connectivity will be lost. This is not the case with LTE technology, which is fully compatible with the existing 2G and 3G networks.

Due to lack of network compatibility, Wi-Max lacks device compatibility as well. The technology requires a separate modem and CPU, which makes  the shift to Wi-Max networks expensive. Even the dongles used for Wi-Max are not compatible with other networks. LTE does not involve these issues and all LTE devices available are backward compatible.

Another key challenge is the high cost of Wi-Max deployment vis-à-vis LTE. While the official cost of deploying LTE is not available, existing 2G or 3G networks can be upgraded to LTE with a few alterations. However, in the case of Wi-Max, this upgradation requires new sites.

State-owned operator BSNL had earlier deployed Wi-Max for launching BWA services. However, the future of the technology is now uncertain with BSNL, the biggest operator, using Wi-Max, surrendering its BWA spectrum to the government.

Wireline technologies

DSL: It involves several technologies distinguished by data rates, reach and application. These include asymmetric DSL (ADSL), symmetric DSL and very high bit DSL. The ADSL family (ADSL, ADSL2+, ADSL2++) is the most commonly deployed DSL technology in India, with up to 20 Mbps downstream capacity and a peak upstream capacity of 1-3 Mbps. Operators such as BSNL, MTNL and Bharti Airtel have deployed ADSL technologies.

Some of these companies are capitalising on their existing copper networks and bundling IPTV offerings as well as VOIP with DSL broadband.

DSL has so far been the technology of choice for operators which intended to reuse their existing cable networks. BSNL and MTNL have significantly benefited from their wide network coverage, which was readily available for broadband services.

However, DSL technology has several limitations in terms of coverage, compatibility, field electronics requirements, electrical interference and a relatively modest broadband capability.

Due to these shortcomings and the growing popularity of wireless access technologies like HSPA and HSPA+, DSL’s share in the total broadband access network is expected to decline in the future.

Optic fibre: Optic fibre in the access network is capable of providing a high bandwidth throughput (up to 100 Mbps) for services such as high definition IPTV and video-on-demand.

So far, optic fibre networks have been deployed by service providers primarily for long-haul traffic. Only about 0.53 per cent of broadband connections are currently working on optic fibre. With increasing bandwidth demand in the access network, especially from the enterprise segment, fibre deployment on the access side has been increasing. However, the pace of deployment has been slow.

At present, it is not compulsory to provide internal wiring or telecom service termination equipment while erecting a multi-storey building. There is a need to consider the option of mandating the creation of an internal network by builders of multi-dwelling units in a way that any operator is able to use it for providing services to the residents of the building.

With an expected increase in data traffic, the requirements for optic fibre, especially on the aggregation front, are likely to grow, but right-of-way (RoW) costs and the time-consuming procedure of securing RoW approvals are the biggest bottlenecks in optic fibre deployment. Though the government is preparing policies to address these issues, solutions are not expected in the immediate future.

Therefore, the share of optic fibre in access networks is likely to remain stagnant in the short term.

Emerging technology trends

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is a technology that uses the internet and central remote servers to store data and build applications. It allows consumers and businesses to use applications without installing them on their PCs.

In the telecom industry, cloud can help enterprises achieve economies of scale by centralising the access server, thereby reducing IT hardware and software costs significantly. It also drives efficiencies through virtualisation and higher utilisation rates, which allows enterprises to scale up/down their costs depending on the usage and demand for cloud-based services. Moreover, given the revenue pressures being faced by operators, the cloud environment is set to receive an impetus due to the potential cost and capex savings offered by the platform.

Over the past year, almost all major Indian operators have entered the cloud computing space. These include Bharti Airtel’s partnership with Savvis, a global provider of cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions for enterprises; Tata Communications’ tie-up with Google to offer cloud-based applications; and the launch of “Reliance Cloud Computing Services” by Reliance Data Center, a subsidiary of Reliance Communications.


NFC is a short-range wireless machine-to-machine technology that enables communication between devices within a distance of 4 cm. Both the interacting devices need to be embedded with NFC chips, and data transfer typically takes place at 420 kbps.

The concept might appear similar to Bluetooth, but the ease of use and variety of application give NFC an edge. The technology consumes less power, provides greater security and bypasses the pairing process required in Bluetooth.

NFC is being promoted as a major technology in the telecom sector as it can be used to provide a wide range of new applications, especially in the field of mobile money. Most importantly, it can make the idea of dispensing with credit cards a reality. Google is incorporating NFC capability into the Android platform; Apple is reportedly planning to do the same for the next version of the iPhone; and Nokia has announced that all future smartphones manufactured by the company will be equipped with NFC.

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