India has the highest growth potential of any major mobile market, but its uptake of 3G and 4G services will be cautious until device and service prices fall sharply.
Operators have been offering commercial 3G services for about a year, but “the growth of 3G has been slower than many expected, mainly because of the high price of services,” said Basharat Ashai, author of a new study of the Indian mobile broadband market by Maravedis-Rethink.
The report forecasts that the active 3G subscriber base will reach 41 million by the end of this year. This shows some acceleration of uptake, but with a growth rate behind that of China at the same stage (two years after operators' 3G launches, China had about 128 million users of the new networks).
However, between 2013 and 2017 growth will pick up in India, particularly driven by the appearance of sub-$50 (€39.57) smartphones, as well as the use of mobile devices for broadband access. With its broadband penetration stagnant in 2011 at just 13.35 million DSL subscribers, the country is highly reliant on 3G and 4G to fulfill its high speed access goals.
Although the first 4G networks are just coming on stream, they are using the TDD version of LTE, which has a far more limited ecosystem of devices than its FDD cousin. Operators and government agencies in China and India are stepping up the pressure on chipset and device makers to redress that balance. By the end of 2017, the report forecasts, the TD-LTE base will reach 67 million in India, at a time when the global LTE base is expected to have neared one billion. By this time, India will also have FD-LTE services, and 700-MHz and other spectrum is to be allocated for this purpose – though possibly not until late 2014 or 2015.
There is a major opportunity in India for providers of offload solutions such as carrier Wi-Fi equipment or femtocells, because the operators have such small allocations of spectrum. Ashai also expects broadband wireless operators in the unlicensed bands to play an increasingly important role in 3G data offload.