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Google and Intel could both bid for Indian WiMAX spectrum

05 ноября 2009

Now that the Indian 3G and WiMAX auctions really seem to be set to kick off in January, major international players are taking an interest. Never far from a big opportunity to spread affordable internet access far and wide, Intel and Google are once again rumored to be about to embark on spectrum ventures, to win influence in the vast Indian market and support their preferred business models.

Both are reported to be looking to partner with operators to bid for WiMAX spectrum, with a view to creating a well financed network that could expand quickly and support new approaches to mobile services, such as multiple MVNOs, open access, and free ad-supported offerings for poorer communities.

The WiMAX auction will start a few days after the conclusion of the 3G sale, which is due to start on January 14. The Department of Telecom plans to auction two blocks of 2.3 GHz spectrum in January. About 28 companies - including Intel Technology India, Google, Alcatel-Lucent India, Motorola, Huawei, HCL Infosystems and TCIL - have bought tender documents.

According to the Indian Business Standardnewspaper, Intel hopes to team with a local operator in the auction. This would support its partner’s roll-out plans financially and in technology and expertise, increasing the chances of a rapid and competitive roll-out; and give Intel a strong guiding hand over the business models and services adopted.

Possible partners could be one of the major cellcos that are expected to join state-owned BSNL and MTNL (which have early access to their spectrum) in rolling out WiMAX. These include Bharti Airtel, Reliance and Tata Communications. Like the state carriers, these are likely to adopt a two-tiered plan - rural access and urban metrozones - working with partners and possibly a franchise model, involving shared risk and reward with vendors.

According to the reports, Intel Capital plans to float a new company as a joint venture with one of the three major cellcos. Indian law allows a foreign entity to hold a maximum of 74% in such a venture. Intel has taken part in many WiMAX ventures round the world, sometimes via joint ventures like Clearwire or Freedom4, sometimes by purchasing spectrum directly as in Sweden, and sometimes with injections of capital or equipment into start-up providers, often in emerging markets.

The week before the Intel speculation surfaced, Google had been the center of similar talk. The search giant may gain short term profile by working closely with carriers, but its bigger vision rests on a fully open mobile web, where its services and revenue streams hold pole position. The search giant has consistently invested in initiatives that should increase availability of cheap, ubiquitous internet access, supporting Wi-Fi metrozones, Clearwire’s WiMAX build-out and emerging technology start-ups like femtocell specialist Ubiquisys. Like Intel, it has also shown itself willing to take part in spectrum auctions in pursuit of its goals, and is reported to be interested in the Indian WiMAX sale.

Google is not looking to become a conventional operator, but takes an interest in spectrum for two reasons - to pressurize regulators and rival bidders into adopting more open rules, a tactic it used in the US 700 MHz auction (where its lobbying helped the imposition of the open access mandate on the national license); and potentially to create a network for service provider partners offering new-style services (Google’s vision includes wholesale super-networks used by a host of providers on an on-demand basis, though Clearwire’s multi-MVNO model is as far as this has progressed so far.)

In India, Google’s interest is in the WiMAX spectrum at 2.3 GHz rather than the 3G sale, according to reports in the Business Standard. While the 3G frequencies are likely to be snapped up by existing Indian or international operators to support an expansion of conventional businesses and services, WiMAX is expected to be highly disruptive in India, attracting new carriers and revenue models, and supporting expansion of broadband access in a desperately underserved nation. With very limited fixed access, mobile platforms are likely to lead web uptake and Google aims to be in the forefront of this wave in one of the world’s biggest growth markets for its services.

According to press reports, Google could either bid for a national license with an Indian firm or be a technology partner in a joint venture. Under revised Indian rules, a foreign firm can only hold 74% of a license acquirer. Google would not comment. The WiMAX auction will be held shortly after the close of the 3G sale, which is now scheduled to start on January 14 after successive postponements.

Google knows it will not be operating in a world without telcos and cellcos for generations, and they remain its most powerful channel in the mobile world. The more services it controls, and the higher the uptake of these, the more of an upper hand it could gain in forming key partnerships like the recent one with Verizon Wireless - and this in turn would disadvantage rivals like Nokia or Apple. But in India as in the US, acquiring licenses will be a means to work with carriers or put pressure on them, not to try to usurp their role altogether.


Источник: 4G Trends

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