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No business case for WiMAX in rural India….definitely not, says Qualcomm India

Kanwalinder Singh
President Qualcomm India & South Asia
  TT Correspondent |  New Delhi | 05/08/2009

Mobile broadband is gaining traction in India and with service providers on the process of look-out for the best technological platform to deliver such services, the pitch by the technology enablers is heating up day-by-day.

Reacting to the ongoing debate over which technology to adopt for in the country’s quest for mobile broadband initiatives, Mr. Kanwalinder Singh, President Qualcomm India & South Asia while speaking to TelecomTiger says that the attempt by the WiMAX lobby to gain attention by positioning the technology as the only answer to India’s broadband targets does not hold any ground.

“At best the WIMAX platform may hold viability in niche pockets in urban areas. But there is no business case for WiMAX in rural India…definitely not,” points out Mr. Singh.

Mr. Singh’s reasoning is that the opex involved in rollout of WiMAX services in rural India would be so high that it would practically kill any profitable business proposition. "As far as rural India is concerned WiMax has no business case at all. First and foremost at 2.3GHz or 2.5GHz, WiMax requires at least 4-5 times the number of base stations compared to say EVDO at 850MHz. Taking tower rentals at Rs 30,000 per month and cost of power (diesel) on top of it, there is absolutely no business case for WiMax services even if one were to consider opex only,” adds the President.

He also says that the lobby’s pitch is more theoretical and there is no live evidence of the road map offered by the platform especially in rural areas of the country.  

Compare this to the mobile broadband services over the 3G ecosystem even in its infancy stage in India, says Mr. Singh where operators including BSNL, Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices are rapidly expanding to cover more cities and prices of dongles are nose diving to hit the Rs 2500-Rs 3000 mark in near future. The carpet-to-carpet coverage ensured over 3G (HSPA and EVDO) is not possible with WiMAX technology, and this will ultimately be the differentiation says Mr. Singh.

Sharing some practical observations of the initial level of rollout by these operators, the company President says that for a 1 GB broadband package offering average speeds of 512 kbps, the ARPU levels registered are close to Rs 750 while for a 10 GB package operators are seen making higher ARPU of around Rs 1,250.

“Network scalability, affordability of devices and the price point for tariffs make mobile broadband over 3G attractive in the Indian scenario,” as per Mr. Singh.

The company is also in talks with OEMs such as Cisco and D-link to introduce pocket routers for the enterprise segment in the Indian market. Such devices are tentatively estimated to be priced in the range of Rs 5,000-Rs,10,000.

To a query on whether pure-play 3G operators hold any ground in the expected market set-up, Mr. Singh candidly says that it will be very challenging for not only pure-play 3G service providers but also the new GSM players who hold spectrum in the 1800 MHz band due to coverage issues.

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