Since ancient times India has played a vital role in the development of global communications. An important junction on the silk and spice trading routes, India acted as both source and conduit for cultural, artistic and financial exchanges between Europe and Asia. Today, modern India has turned the focus on herself, expediting the development of its national infrastructure - particularly communications.
Formed via the unification of independent kingdoms in South Asia, India has grown exponentially to emerge as a global leader in corporate governance and technology development. With the world's second-largest population (1.1 billion) and one of the fastest growing economies, India is attracting an increasing level of local and international investment. Nowhere is this more evident than in the local wireless communications sector.
Founded on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), and Global System for Mobile (GSM) technologies, India's digital wireless networks are run by 16 carriers across the country. Providing coverage to India's 18 mobile service areas known as 'circles', these carriers deliver second-generation (2G) and 2.5G services to over 130 million subscribers. This figure is increasing at a dramatic pace.
The current Indian wireless market is characterised by phenomenal growth. The number of mobile phone subscribers doubled between 2005 and 2006, and in recent months India has added nearly six million subscribers per month, outpacing the growth of China. In a landscape that currently has a mobile tele-density of just 2% in the rural areas, and 40% in the urban areas, the potential for continued expansion is enormous.
India represents a key market for growth in the global wireless communications industry. Historically, the Indian Government has kept a tight grip on the airwaves, limiting foreign investment and allocating spectrum in small amounts. It is expected that the impending relaxation of these constraints will contribute to an explosion in India's wireless communications development.
A relatively young industry, India's wireless communications sector has undergone a number of significant changes, following the deregulation of the country's telecom industry in the early nineties. The government's introduction of several National Telecom Policies (notably NTP94 and NTP99) saw new players enter India's telecoms market, kick-starting the nation's wireless communications industry. The establishment of the country's first wireless communications network in 1995 marked the beginning of India's express wireless development.
Radio Frequency Systems (RFS) has contributed to India's wireless communications development, supplying equipment tailored to the nation's application requirements. Established in India in 2002, RFS has been echoing the rapid growth of the Indian wireless market. While advanced technology solutions providers have, of course, played a vital role in supporting this growth, its main driver has been insatiable domestic demand, coupled with steady waves of foreign investment.
In October 2005, the Indian Government amended its foreign direct investment (FDI) policy. Prior to this, foreign investment was limited to a maximum of 49%. That figure has been increased to 74%, enticing offshore companies to inject much needed revenue into the Indian wireless communications sector.
Currently, India's wireless communications industry is holding its collective breath. The industry's regulatory authority, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), recently submitted a number of regulatory reforms to the Indian Government. TRAI has recommended the freeing-up and allocation of spectrum, to allow the country's GSM and CDMA carriers to increase and enhance their services. These reforms are currently before Parliament and may assist the Indian Government in reaching its goal of 500 million subscribers by 2010.
While this fast-track wireless development brings new communications flexibility to Indians, it also presents a range of region-specific challenges. Growth of this magnitude has not been encountered anywhere else in the world, and, as such, demands business models, rollout strategies and coverage plans unique to India.
Entering the interior
The task of providing India's population with efficient and affordable telephony is made more challenging by the country's diverse geography and socio-economic demographic. With approximately 70% of Indians residing in the country's rural areas, deploying communication networks - both wired and wireless - into India's interior is paramount.
With fixed-line telephony comparatively costly and time-consuming to roll out, wireless communications has emerged as the preferred technology. India's wireless subscribers already outnumber fixed line subscribers four to one. Providing wireless coverage to non-urban areas has seen network carriers adopt unique network operation and rollout strategies in order to cut costs and improve performance.
Shared and streamlined
Although India leads the world in mobile telephony uptake rate, the country's mobile tele-density is still heavily weighted towards urban areas. As both urban and rural Indians gain increased access to a wider choice of carriers, inexpensive handsets, and wireless functionality, subscriber numbers are set to multiply dramatically.
Traditionally, nearly all of India's wireless carriers have established their own network infrastructures, competing for base station locations with India's exploding population. So serious is the issue of available base station sites (especially in India's metro coverage circles) that the TRAI has advised - in its most recent proposal to the Indian Government - that co-location and network sharing be enforced. Single-service base stations and antenna sites will become a thing of the past, making way for shared and streamlined wireless communication networks.
Co-location benefits are wide-ranging. Urban operators, for example, will be able to rationalise their existing networks. Network sharing in turn will simplify the physical network rollout process, accelerating growth in regions yet to receive wireless coverage. In both urban and rural applications, co-location will also allow operators to share costs associated with network rollout, upkeep and operation.
While the re-shaping of India's wireless sector is crucial to its growth, it raises significant network management challenges: interference in the co-location cases, and providing optimal coverage in new rural wireless deployments.
Infrastructure sharing in India is not limited to mobile phone networks. India's FM radio sector is currently being upgraded, with RFS playing a major role. Due for completion by the end of 2007, the three-stage common transmission infrastructure (CTI) project involves the design and construction of shared FM radio broadcast infrastructure to broadcast 240 radio stations into 91 Indian cities.
RFS can claim extensive global experience in providing broadband RF solutions, having been enlisted to design and supply 34 fully engineered FM RF broadcast systems tailored to the local broadcast environment. The RFS combined broadcast system will, it is expected, allow the transmission of five channels - two government-owned and three private channels. A combined antenna system will allow broadcasters 'top spot' on each tower, enabling increased coverage: engineering a combined antenna system represents a more streamlined solution and is often preferable to designing separate antenna systems.
With stage two of the CTI project nearing completion, 110 stations are now online and broadcast into 87 cities, representing a significant milestone in India's ongoing broadcast network expansion. With this investment in India's radio broadcast industry, it is not surprising that the recent unveiling of the final draft of India's Broadcast Bill has caused some controversy. India's latest Broadcast Bill directly contrasts with the country's wireless communications policies, in that the Indian Government plans to increase the regulation of the broadcast sector.
One of India's biggest growing markets is the construction industry, with approximately 3,000 new buildings scheduled for completion by 2009. With the construction of new shopping malls, cinema complexes, high-rise residential buildings and office skyscrapers, comes an escalating demand for wireless coverage inside buildings and tunnels.
This growing number of populated structures in India is demanding wireless coverage for commercial cellular services, safety radio, WiFi (Wireless Fidelity), WiMAX (Worldwide interoperability for Microwave Access) and even mobile TV. RFS is confident that the ClearFill suite of end-to-end Wireless INdoor Solutions (WINS) will tackle these challenges.
With the Indian Government set to release new spectrum for network expansion, India looks set to speed ahead on its multi-lane wireless communications development highway. As 2G services make their way into the country's rural areas, India's city-dwellers eagerly await the arrival of 3G services in the coming years. RFS considers itself 3G-ready, equipped with the technology and expertise to hit the ground running."
RFS India has recently consolidated its local presence by becoming a registered Indian business entity, and will complement its offices in Delhi with a distribution centre in one of the nation's major cities. It offers Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers/Thadomal Shahani Engineering College (IEEE-TSEC) certification, and claims to be equipped to service India, Nepal and Bangladesh."
** This feature is based on an article supplied by RFS. It does not imply any endorsement of RFS products or services.