WiMAX Forum confident of position in India

Lynnette LunaNot surprisingly, the Indian market is front and center on the agenda of the WiMAX Forum these days. Certainly, the long-term success of the technology will be heavily influenced by the decisions of newly licensed wireless broadband operators there as India represents a market that will easily ramp up several million wireless broadband subscribers within a matter of a few years. If WiMAX supported some 40 million subscribers in that country, the technology is assured a long life.

It's evident, thanks to the timing of the auction, that India's newly licensed operators have a dilemma. Do they deploy WiMAX now to tap into the high demand for broadband or wait for TD-LTE, which will have a higher price tag but will conform to what the world's largest mobile operators are deploying, eventually giving these operators huge economies of scale?

That is the argument the WiMAX Forum is making in India, said Declan Byrne, the WiMAX Forum's new director of marketing.

"We're encountering a lot of confusion primarily sown by Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC)  and the LTE camp," Byrne said. "We're spending a lot of time with Indian operators as a forum and directly with our members ... The operator community spent billions on these licenses. They can't afford to wait until the latter half of 2011 for TD-LTE."

Indeed, India's operators, which spent a collective $8.22 billion on licenses, are racking up millions in operating costs per day. They can't afford to wait. So the question is how quickly can TD-LTE get to market? And can the equipment be competitively priced enough for operators to offer competitive service offerings?

Perhaps we can take a cue from Reliance Industries, India's industrial conglomerate that snatched up startup ISP Infotel Broadband Services after it won the lone nationwide BWA license for $2.74 billion. It shook up the wireless industry by indicating it would deploy TD-LTE. Now we are hearing that it plans to deploy WiMAX in the 2.3 GHz band instead of TD-LTE technology because it realizes the technology isn't mature enough.  

Reliance's decision will likely have an impact on many auction winners, except for Qualcomm, which is looking to pioneer TD-LTE technology's entrance into the Indian market through its licenses in four regions.

The next several weeks are critical for both sides of the technology debate. The forum is holding a summit in India on Aug. 20, bringing vendors and licensees together to talk about price points and WiMAX readiness. Ericsson, Qualcomm and others are making their promises about LTE.

One thing is for sure in Byrne's mind though: Once operators decide to move with WiMAX it will be unlikely they make a flip to TD-LTE when the technology is more mature. He reasons that subscriber growth will ramp up quickly, driving down chip prices rather quickly. "The question for operators will be, 'Do I want to buy chipsets at this price or do I want to now start the process of converting to LTE with an overlay.' I think the answer to that is about how successful we are in the next 36 months," he said.--Lynnette