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Bharti Closes In on LTE Spectrum

18 марта 2011

India's biggest mobile operator Bharti Airtel Ltd. looks set to buy the broadband wireless access (BWA) licenses owned by Qualcomm Inc. for up to US$1.3 billion, according to an Economic Times report.

Qualcomm spent 49.1 billion Indian rupees (US$1.09 billion) on 2.3GHz licenses in four of India's 22 circles (service areas) -- Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana and Kerala -- during the BWA spectrum auction that concluded in June 2010.

The wireless chip vendor stated all along that it was not interested in becoming a service provider itself, but was instead seeking to introduce Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) technology to India, and would sell the licenses on the condition that the new owner built LTE TDD networks rather than WiMax, which is the other technology choice suitable for 2.3GHz. It has also been working toward developing the LTE TDD ecosystem in India by testing LTE TDD technology with Ericsson AB.

In July 2010 it brought two local investors, Global Holding Corp. and Tulip Telecom Ltd. , on board to satisfy Indian regulations and enable it to apply for an ISP license. Since then it has been engaged in negotiations with various suitors for the sale of its majority holding in the licenses, with Bharti Airtel and fellow Indian mobile operator Aircel Ltd. identified as interested buyers.

Both those alleged suitors also won BWA licenses in last June's auction, with Aircel bagging spectrum in eight circles and Bharti Airtel in four.

Now, though, it's believed that Aircel has withdrawn from the negotiations.

If Bharti Airtel does acquire Qualcomm's licenses, it's believed that Global Holding and Tulip Telecom will also sell their stakes in the BWA operation to Bharti.

Why this matters
The use of the BWA spectrum is going to be critical to the development of broadband services in India, where Internet access at anything above a few megabits per second is severely limited. Currently, India, a country with a population of about 1.2 billion, has only 11.2 million broadband lines (including all connections above 256 Kbit/s).

It's important, then, that the country's BWA spectrum is put to use as quickly as possible to help develop the country's digital economy. The sooner Qualcomm finds a willing buyer that fits its specific criteria, the better.

Bharti Airtel fits the bill. It has the financial muscle and the passive infrastructure to make best use of the 2.3GHz spectrum quickly, and along with Qualcomm it was one of the companies that expressed strong commitment to the development of a global LTE TDD ecosystem at the recent LTE TDD/FDD International Summit in Barcelona. At that event, Bharti Airtel described its plans to develop LTE TDD services alongside its already-launched 3G services by the end of 2011.

If the deal goes through quickly, 2011 could be a big year for LTE TDD in India, and Light Reading reported Wednesday that Reliance Industries Ltd., the only company to hold BWA licenses in all of India's 22 circles, is working closely with a local partner on its planned LTE TDD rollout.


Источник: Unstrung

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