Pierre St-Arnaud Issue: India 2005
Article no.: 9
Topic: WiMAX in India: affordable broadband connectivity for
Author: Pierre St-Arnaud
Title: President and Chief Executive Officer
Organisation: SR Telecom Inc
PDF size: 84KB

About author

Pierre St-Arnaud is the President and Chief Executive Officer of SR Telecom. Mr St-Arnaud joined SR as President and Chief Operating Officer. Mr St-Arnaud possesses a wide range of international experience in high technology, value-added manufacturing and engineering companies. Prior to joining SR Telecom, Mr St-Arnaud held executive positions at Hydro Quebec and ABB. Mr St-Arnaud holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Université du Québec à Montréal and a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal.

Article abstract

Teledensity in India is quite low and access to broadband is lower still. The capital needed to deploy traditional ‘last mile’ connectivity solutions throughout the country is prohibitive. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) believes broadband access can help businesses, education, healthcare and government, create jobs and increase the GDP. WiMax technology supports both high-quality voice and broadband data services at a fraction of the infrastructure cost of equivalent wireline solutions. Additionally, deployment of WiMAX is fast and relatively easy.

Full Article

Without any doubt, with its burgeoning skilled workforce and its increasingly important role in the global economy, India is, today, one of the fastest growing markets for telecommunications products and services in the world. Recent deregulation and liberalisation of telecommunications laws and policies have prompted rapid and widespread change. In April 2002, India was adding 280,000 new mobile phone connections per month. Today, operators are adding almost 2 million new subscribers per month. While steady improvement is taking place with the recent admission of private and private-public investors, telephone density throughout the country remains low. Nationwide, approximately seven people per 100 have telephone connections, a figure that drops to one person per 100 in rural areas. Further, there is a national waiting list of over 1.7 million people. Indeed, delivery of telecommunications services to rural areas is one of India’s most pressing needs; some 14 per cent of India’s 600,000 villages still do not have a single public telephone. Access to broadband connectivity is also very limited. Broadband penetration has reached only 0.02 connections per 100 people. At the same time, there is a bandwidth glut in the network. The problem is the ‘last mile’, the expansion of wireline access services is capital intensive. This lack of access means the customer is prevented from reaching out. Connectivity is vital to Indian business and society, and addressing India’s telecommunications gap is essential in order to sustain the country’s rapid economic growth. In a recent report, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said that access to broadband would allow people to “do business more efficiently over longer distances, be better educated, have access to healthcare services, benefit from better governance and have enhanced entertainment services.” Moreover, it would “have a significant impact on GDP and attract new investment, create jobs and a larger more qualified labour pool, and increase productivity through infrastructure creation and access to new and improved services.” Many other needs can be better served through improved telecommunications as well. For example, there are already Indian government programmes in place whereby citizens with access to online services can obtain birth certificates and various licences, pay utility bills and taxes, make ticket reservations for transportation services and obtain government policies and orders. One of the most efficient ways to address this escalating need for broadband telecommunications may be the emerging WiMAX technology–an advanced wireless technology that supports both toll-quality voice and broadband data services at a fraction of the infrastructure cost of equivalent wireline solutions. India lacks a comprehensive wired communications infrastructure and this presents a significant challenge. India has some of the fastest growing urban and suburban areas in Asia, but the high cost of cable, copper/DSL and fibre optic infrastructure means that the growing demand for telecommunications services cannot be immediately met. Moreover, the quality of the cable TV infrastructure is low and a fractured industry makes widespread upgrade unlikely. To meet the needs of its society, India must resolve the issue of the ‘last mile’. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recognised this and, as part of its recommendations, the government body promised to increase access to customers in the last mile by ‘allowing terrestrial wireless solutions to spread more effectively as a means to reach customers with today’s technologies, as well as those in the near future’. In fact, the report goes on to say that: “WiMAX is a technology that could address this issue very cost-effectively in the future, providing high bandwidth over long distances”. WiMAX represents a major shift in wireless communications. It is a new standards-based wireless technology that promises to deliver high-speed wireless connectivity more simply and cost-effectively than current proprietary wireless technologies. Additionally, deployment of WiMAX is fast and relatively easy. Further, WiMAX is intended to provide a carrier-class solution that can scale to support thousands of users with a single base station and provide differentiated service levels from basic voice to broadband applications such as video, in both licenced and unlicenced spectrums. By strongly encouraging standards-based products with fewer variants and larger volume production, WiMAX should drive down the cost of equipment and make broadband wireless a bona fide competitor with other access technologies. Soon, a single WiMAX-certified base station sector will provide enough data rate to simultaneously support more than 60 businesses with T1-type connectivity and hundreds of homes with DSL-type connectivity. Given these significant benefits, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India stated in its report that: “new technologies such as WiMAX, which have the potential to deliver about 4Mbps over long distances in a fixed point-to-point or point-to-multipoint configuration, should also be encouraged. In anticipation of standardisation of these technologies by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the spectrum should be de-licensed in line with international practices, to allow India to take early advantage of such advanced wireless technologies.” This is good news for India’s information technology community. According to a study by the Confederation of Indian Industry, the broadband economy could attract investments of over US$2.6 billion by 2006 and US$5.35 billion by 2010. Anoop Verma, of Delhi-based Advent Electronics, states that: “ultimately the people who are going to do the “last mile” connectivity are going to be smaller, regional systems integrators.” Members of the WiMAX Forum are committed to seeing WiMAX-certified technology blossom in countries that would immediately benefit from it. However, as part of a commitment to their customers, they are also striving to ensure that the benefits and risks inherent in utilising this new standards-based platform are clear. As with the introduction of any new disruptive technology, it is important for operators and carriers to understand that there are a number of considerations that should be factored into their WiMAX deployment strategy. For example, while networks built with WiMAX are on the horizon, product certification will not occur before mid-2005. It should also be remembered that WiMAX-certified products will have different capabilities based on optional feature implementation. Certainly, there are some constants. We do know, however, that the overall feature set for a fully functional WiMAX-certified product will include Non-Line-Of-Sight (NLOS) capabilities, OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) physical layers, TDD (Time Division) and FDD (Frequency Division) duplexing and an intelligent MAC (Media Access Control) uplink/downlink protocol for reduced latency and jitter. Nevertheless, vendors will not necessarily implement all of these features; they will have to determine what specific performance characteristics or feature sets may be most useful to their customers. Finally, WiMAX profiles themselves are in a state of evolution. For example, the WiMAX Forum is currently working on the 802.16e version of the standard with the intent of taking advantage of the inherent portability and/or mobility of wireless media. Many analysts predict that this particular version of the WiMAX standard will generate even more interest and volume–and hence economies of scale. In short, WiMAX is evolving into a wide range of profiles designed to address a wide variety of needs. However, carriers do have the option of deploying WiMAX-ready platforms immediately, a few of which have already been introduced to the marketplace by the industry’s key equipment suppliers. Choosing a WiMAX-ready product for immediate deployment offers a number of critical strategic benefits. It will certainly give carriers a head start on the competition, allowing them to gain and secure market share by offering customers WiMAX-grade services today, and it provides them with the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the capabilities and operational capacity of a WiMAX-ready network. Critical technology advances such as OFDMA, diversity, hybrid-ARQ (Automatic Repeat Request), sub-channelling and collision-free arbitration enable vastly enhanced system performance and carriers who deploy WiMAX-ready equipment that incorporates these technologies will be able to leverage their experience to maintain growth in the transition phase from WiMAX-ready to WiMAX-certified solutions. Perhaps the key decision that carriers and regional system integrators must currently make is whether to deploy WiMAX-ready equipment today or to wait for the particular variant of certified products that they require to address the needs of their networks. Successful early adoption will depend on the thorough analysis of both present and future network needs, the identification of an equipment supplier with a proven-track record of field deployments using the technologies outlined in the WiMAX profiles and the selection of equipment that offers an economical, failsafe and seamless upgrade path to WiMAX-certification. If a carrier decides to deploy pre-WiMAX equipment today, it must seek out technology–and an equipment provider–that has already demonstrated its robustness, stability, capabilities and efficiency over time in real-world situations. Testing a new airlink is a simple affair, but scalability must be proven in the field. Moreover, the importance of meticulous RF planning, network architecture and network management cannot be overstated, and this requires choosing a vendor or system integrator that has also been field-proven over time. In short, operators in India definitely need to choose their WiMAX equipment carefully to ensure that it will include the capabilities and performance that will enable a cost-effective network deployment today that can be easily updated to meet the country’s emerging telecommunications requirements.