Qualcomm's intentions in India could shake up WiMAX's potential foothold

Just when you thought that WiMAX and LTE had found their respective niches, Qualcomm decides to bid for spectrum in India with plans to deploy TD-LTE in the 2.3/2.5 GHz band (see story No. 4, below), a band thought to be a shoo-in for WiMAX technology in India.

India's on-again, off-again spectrum auctions are now on again and set for April 9 for 3G spectrum and April 11 for the broadband wireless access (BWA) auction. The government plans to auction two 20 MHz unpaired blocks of spectrum in each of the country's 22 service areas. Qualcomm plans to bid for one of the slots. The base price for a pan-India spectrum slot is set at $386 million. (see related story below)

Qualcomm, a long-time foe of WiMAX, is embarking on a strategy it has long used to spur development of its favored technology: jumping in the market itself. It did so with CDMA, as the biggest example, and it was successful.

Of course, this is much to the chagrin of WiMAX advocates. The WiMAX Forum has been lobbying hard in India to commence with the auctions, which have been continually delayed for some two years. It has set up an interoperability lab there and other offices.

Light Reading Asia reports that CS Rao, chairman of the WiMAX Forum India, is concerned about Qualcomm's move, and he wants Intel--which has a track record of bidding for WiMAX licenses in other countries to push the technology along--to also participate in the auction.

"Intel should come forward as it has done in other countries," Rao told the publication.

Rao then goes on to say how TD-LTE is not a mature technology and deploying the immature technology would "deprive about 15 million subscribers from using broadband, and that would be a major loss."

The deadline for applications is the end of the week, and Intel hasn't given any indication whether it might apply to bid. Both Qualcomm and Intel would need to find Indian partners, per auction rules.

But here is what is at stake, by the WiMAX Forum's own admission back in December: 500 million mobile subscribers but only 7.4 million have access to broadband connections. The WiMAX Forum also projected then that the Indian WiMAX market including devices will be worth $13 billion by 2012. This forecast takes into account 27.5 million WiMAX users, or 19 million WiMAX subscribers in 2012.

That type of market potential  could really drive the economics of TD-LTE  and put it squarely in competition with WiMAX--which is TDD based. WiMAX has found its niche as a greenfield solution, while the regular flavor of LTE, which is FDD-based, has seemed to be reserved for mobile operators looking to move to 4G.

Given that India is one of the hottest mobile markets in the world, we are likely to see some pretty interesting bidders and bedfellows vying for spectrum before the week is out. India is a market where technology could certainly get a leg up. --Lynnette