Rumor mill: India's Reliance Industries to invest $10B in TD-LTE network

Reliance Industries, headed by Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, is reportedly finalizing plans to offer nationwide wireless broadband services via a plan that could cost more than $10 billion.

Reliance is conducting a technology field trial in the western Indian town of Jamnagar on its way to building out TD-LTE in 700 cities--including 100 high-priority markets—with Delhi and Mumbai planned as the first launches, according to the Wall Street Journal. Analysts have calculated the cost to launch the network, including setting up tens of thousands of new cell towers, could exceed the $10 billion mark.

Reliance is the only company with a nationwide Broadband Wireless Access license. However, Bharti Airtel, India's largest wireless operator, has already rolled out TD-LTE under regional BWA licenses in Kolkata and Bangalore. Bharti also recently bought a 49 percent stake in Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) BWA license entities in India.

The Wall Street Journal said Reliance is laying down fiber-optic backhaul for its planned nationwide network and is eyeing Samsung as its TD-LTE infrastructure equipment provider. In addition to providing data services, Reliance is also reportedly interested in providing voice services using earlier-generation technologies and could acquire an incumbent mobile operator, such as Reliance Communications, which is run by Ambani's brother Anil.

Yet some fear Reliance's plans for TD-LTE may be arriving too early. "The market is not ready for LTE technology," Rajiv Sharma, an analyst at HSBC Holdings PLC, recently wrote in a report. That could mean trouble given that Reliance's BWA license requires the network achieve 50 percent rural market area coverage by 2015.

Device availability is seen as a major issue for TD-LTE adoption in India. "The challenge Indian operators face lies in bringing an inexpensive multi-mode (2G/3G/TD-LTE) device to the consumer," Basharat Ashai, market analyst, APAC & MEA, at Maravedis, recently wrote in a column for FierceBroadbandWireless.

In addition, it's unclear whether low-cost TD-LTE single-mode devices will arrive quickly enough to boost the Indian market. Ashai said mass-market devices for TD-LTE are still two years away, and added, "It may take more than two years for device prices to fall below $50--the price an Indian consumer can afford."

For more:
- see this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)

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