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Asian 4G developing rapidly but in fragmented pattern

04 июня 2010

The pattern of wireless deployments has always been far more varied and fragmented in Asia than in the more homogeneous Europe, and mobile broadband is no exception.

As the Indian BWA auction rumbles on, with WiMAX and TD-LTE bidding for a place in the wireless picture, Thailand looks set to leapfrog 3G altogether, Korea is expanding the reach of WiMAX, and Indonesia aims to become a tier one country in terms of fast wireless.

Thailand’s regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), says it will skip over the 3G stage and will instead allocate the 2.1GHz band, usually used for UMTS, for next generation technologies. The auction will be held before the end of the year, NTC commissioner Pana Thongmeearkom told Dow Jones, offering three licenses for 15MHz of spectrum. This is an increase on the previous plan to offer just one 15MHz slot plus two of 10MHz each, reflecting the greater bandwidth needs of new mobile data services (though many argue that operators really need at least 40MHz to make WiMAX or LTE deliver their full potential).

‘3.9G technology’, as Pana calls LTE and WiMAX, is “a more advanced technology than 3G, that is based on the 2.1GHz frequencies but allows much faster data transmission which would provide greater benefit to consumers,” he said. The regulator will stay technology neutral as to LTE or WiMAX, though analysts expect the most aggressive bidders to be the existing three cellcos - AIS, DTAC and True Move - which have expressed interest in LTE. Delays in the original 3G auction process made Thailand one of the last countries in south east Asia to open the way to 3G or beyond.

Further south in Malaysia, the country’s largest WiMAX operator, Packet 1, has announced that Korea’s SKT is to pay $100m for a 25% stake in the firm. P1, part of publicly listed Green Packet, has signed more than 175,000 subscribers since its launch in August 2008.

The Korean carriers, SKT and KT, were the first to offer commercial Mobile WiMAX services, initially using a local variant called WiBro (which is now being harmonized with international channel plans). Their services were slow to take off but they have recently revamped their plans, helped by new rules on channelization and MVNO deals, and SKT has resurrected earlier plans to use its WiMAX expertise to build a power base in its region. By acquiring spectrum or stakes in operators, it aims to increase its influence and  purchasing power using a technology in which Korea has significant IPR.

In its statement, SKT said the investment was to take advantage “the huge growth potential” of the Malaysian market. It will use its P1 partnership to help build a business in fixed/mobile services across south east Asia, particularly targeting businesses and corporate travelers. This strategy, which it dubs Industry Productivity Enhancement (IPE), is targeted to make $16bn in revenue by 2020 and will involve a range of partnerships and technologies. Green Packet has Malaysia’s only nationwide WiMAX license, in a country that has been very aggressive about the technology (and does not have LTE on the horizon). The company also has a license in Singapore and aims to acquire further spectrum across the region.

Indonesia would be a logical focus for the ambitions of SKT and Green Packet, given its huge population and mobile growth rates. However, its progress towards 4G has so far been erratic, and held up by regulatory decisions - notably to mandate the fixed WiMAX standard, 802.16d, for the 2.3GHz and 3.3GHz bands. There are eight license holders but they are lobbying for the mobility restriction to be removed. The country’s operators also want the regulator, Postel, to accelerate the process of removing spectrum in 2.5GHz from satellite broadcasters and making it available for WiMAX or LTE. If this proves problematic, Postel is also studying a similar approach to Thailand - opening up further spectrum in the 3G band, or refarming current holdings, to support 4G.

Nokia Siemens recently demonstrated LTE in capital Jakarta and the three cellcos, Telkomsel, Indosat and XL Axiata, have submitted proposals for deploying the technology, should spectrum become available by 2013.

Of course, one of the most important future markets for new technologies will be India, because of its huge pent-up demand for broadband and mobile services. The auction of the 2.3GHz BWA spectrum is underway, though there will only be two licenses for private operators, in addition to one held by state-owned BSNL and MTNL. Many operators say this is inadequate, and they will need more spectrum soon. The call is led by the major cellcos, like Bharti Airtel, that failed to get nationwide holdings in the 3G band, and may miss out on a BWA license. These players want regulator TRAI to accelerate its promised consultation on clearing the 2.5GHz band and opening it up for LTE or, in its TDD portion, WiMAX. In 2.3GHz, which is TDD-only, WiMAX is being deployed by the state carriers, but Qualcomm is bidding to try to get TD-LTE a place in the band too.

On Friday, 24 rounds of bidding had been concluded, with total bids reaching INR157bn ($3.4bn) or $1.13bn per national license (BSNL/MTNL will pay for theirs retrospectively, according to the market price, although they got early access to their spectrum.) The prices are well over double the reserve price of INR17.5bn per slot.


Источник: 4G Trends

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