In India, WiMAX Takes Wings

It’s not fiber, but it’s not copper either. Fixed Wireless (read certified WiMAX) is just the kind of leapfrog technology that makes sense in emerging telecom markets such as India and China.

Certified WiMAX took a big step forward in India today, when local incumbent Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) announced that it would roll out fixed wireless networks in six Indian cities, and will offer high bandwidth connections to corporate customers. The cities where networks would be rolled out include Kolkata (in West Bengal), Bangalore (in Karnataka), Chennai (in Tamil Nadu), Ahmedabad (in Gujarat), Hyderabad (in Andhra Pradesh), and Pune (in Maharastra).

The deployment, which will also cover four rural districts in the State of Haryana, is planned for completion in January, according to Aperto Networks which is supplying the equipment. Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune are four major technology hubs in India and are in severe need of bandwidth. Many US companies have operations in these cities including giants such as Microsoft and Google. The initial deployments would offer speeds upto 2 megabits per second.

This is a second major win for Milpitas, Calif.-based Aperto, which is also a key supplier for a 65-city fixed wireless network being built by another local phone company, VSNL. The network will eventually be extended to 200 cities.

In addition to these networks, Intel has WiMAX trials planned for Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune and Bangalore. Like Intel, Alcatel is also aggressively pushing WiMAX in India. Indian ISP DishNet has fixed wireless networks deployed (or under development) in eight cities, and is targeting the consumers. Nokia will start selling WiMAX gear in 2007, and Motorola also is planning to jump into the fray, according to local media reports.

According to a report by research firms Maravedis and Tonse Telecom India will have 13 million WiMAX subscribers by 2012. The demand for wireless broadband gear is going to add up to about $4.5 billion by 2012. Still, these numbers should be taken with requisite caution. The cost of transmission gear remains high, and the customer premise equipment is still expensive by local standards. Given that fixed wireless frequency of choice in India is 3.3-to-3.4 GHz, India is unlikely to benefit from the economies of scale that would come with WiMAX. Globally, WiMAX signals are likely to be transmitted in the 2.5-to-2.69 GHz band.