With LTE on deck, India primes to leapfrog U.S. in mobile broadband rankings

As India prepares to enter the LTE camp this month, it is already being heralded as the country that will soon topple the United States from its ranking as the world's second-largest mobile broadband market.

India's largest mobile operator, Bharti Airltel, announced it will launch TD-LTE service this month in Kolkata using a network supplied and managed by ZTE. After Bharti introduces LTE in Kolkata, it reportedly intends to follow up with launches in Maharashtra, Punjab and Karnataka. Nokia Siemens is building and will manage Bharti's TD-LTE network in Maharashtra via a contract reportedly worth $132 million.

The operator introduced W-CDMA services only last year due to the fact that India did not issue 3G licenses until September 2010. Bharti is launching LTE on its Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum, which was auctioned by the Indian government in June 2010, raising a windfall of $5.45 billion for the nation. Bharti paid some $708 million for its BWA spectrum in four of the 22 telecom circles offered.

Bharti's aggressive LTE deployment will contribute to India's already rapid mobile broadband growth. The GSM Association this week announced that India will become the second largest mobile broadband market within the next four years, with 367 million connections expected by 2016. That will place India above the United States, which will account for 337 million mobile broadband connections by 2016. China will lead the rankings with 639 million connections in the same period.

The GSMA said India now has more than 10 million HSPA connections, and that number is expected to grow a stunning 900 percent to more than 100 million connections in 2014. At that time, India will be the largest HSPA market worldwide, surpassing China, Japan and the U.S.

While HSPA is catching on rapidly in India, it remains to be seen if the LTE adoption rate will be as swift. The GSMA's Wireless Intelligence service said that at the average retail price of $500, the cost of an LTE smartphone is four times the average monthly GDP per capita in India, and at an average of $200, the retail price of an LTE USB dongle is twice an Indian's monthly income on average. "As LTE networks proliferate worldwide and more devices become available, costs will come down. Initiatives like the introduction of the low-cost Aakash tablet in India are helping spur widespread access to the Internet in emerging markets, but more can be done," said the association.

For more:
- see this Indian Express article
- see The Economic Times article
- see this Total Telecom article
- see this GSMA release

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