Indian Mobile Operators Are Priming their Networks for Mobile Broadband Uptake

The Indian mobile subscriber market has demonstrated strong growth in the past decade or so, but when it comes to the adoption of mobile data services, the results are more mixed.

"While total wireless data subscribers stood at more than 370 million at the end of 2011, only 17 million had access to WCDMA services; the rest are being served by GPRS/EDGE,” says Jake Saunders, vice president of forecasting at ABI Research.

There are a number of challenges to kick-starting the Indian mobile broadband market. The large landmass and population are two substantial reasons, but India’s low average monthly revenue per user (US$3-5) also constrains cash flow to fund infrastructure investments.

Indian operators are executing a number of initiatives:

  • Offloading their capital and operating expenditure-intensive base station towers to tower management companies.
  • Forging relationships with not just Nokia, Samsung, and LG, but also lower cost handset manufacturers such as Huawei, ZTE, Micromax, and G’Five.
  • Repackaging their data plans into more affordable, lower-tier options.
  • Introducing not just low-cost tablets, but also 3G data plans.
  • Encouraging “local” apps developers to create “local” software apps and content.

“While 3G services are only now establishing a toehold in the Indian market, operators such as Aircel, Augure, and Infotel are turning to TD-LTE, a 4G technology of the time division variant, to help address the market potential for mobile data services. LTE offers the potential to change the cost equation of delivering mobile data services through increased spectral efficiency - not just in dense, urban communities but also rural towns and villages,” comments Philip Solis, research director, mobile devices.

The Indian market is full of potential. At the end of 2011, there were 900 million mobile subscribers. However, a note of caution is merited. The market is heavily fragmented, with more than 70 3G licensed circles. Considerable expectations were placed on 4G WiMAX, which failed to materialize. WCDMA and TD-LTE subscriber adoption will eclipse 90 million and 5 million by 2013, respectively.

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