Will WiMAX be India’s Broadband Salvation?


There’s no other way to describe India’s current broadband situation.

For a country with 1.1 billion people and aspiring to superpower status, India is said to have a pitiful 4.4 million broadband subscribers (we suspect even this number is an exaggeration and much of it of poor quality).

Most broadband subscribers in India currently access the Internet via DSL or cable (both unreliable if you go by the several complaints on various forums).

The low broadband subscriber base in India is also a proxy variable suggesting the enormous digital divide in the country.

The situation is worse when you realize that broadband in India is defined by the bozos at Telecom Regulatory Authority of India as greater than equal to a mere 256 Kbps.

Broadband Subscribers in India

Wireless Technology
WiMAX, which is based on wireless technology, offers some hope that India will overcome existing hurdles and boost the broadband subscription base in the country.

WiMAX may expand the broadband subscriber base and usher in lower monthly prices because it doesn’t have to deal with the problems of wired connections like last mile connectivity issues or the non-viability of installing wired connections in remote areas.

There are two kinds of WiMAX broadband access – Fixed WiMAX (based on the 802.16-2004 specification) and Mobile WiMAX (based on the 802.16e-2005 specification). While both are portable, Fixed WiMAX – unlike Mobile WiMAX – does not lend itself to use while one is on the move.

WiMAX is largely a virgin technology in India and even the U.S. and we expect download speeds of 1Mbps for Mobile WiMAX and perhaps 2Mbps-4Mbps for fixed WiMAX in India at the subscriber level. Not great compared to the 10Mbps-12Mbps we get from our Comcast connection in the U.S. but way ahead of the crappy dial-up nonsense or the DSL/cable ‘broadband’ connections in India.

WiMAX Forum Bullish on India
The WiMAX Forum (a pro-WiMAX industry body) is projecting that by 2012 India will have 27.5 million WiMAX users, which would be 20% of global WiMAX subscribers.

Of the projected 27.5 million WiMAX users in 2012, the forum forecasts that 70% will use mobile and portable WiMAX devices to access broadband Internet services.

Pricing, customer service (mostly non-existent in India where broadband connectivity is concerned) and whether WiMAX can scale and deliver the goods will ultimately determine subscription levels. For WiMAX operators and vendors, the cost of failure would be high given that another wireless broadband technology LTE is waiting in the wings (Vodafone and Verizon have committed to LTE).

The WiMAX Forum plans to set up a product certification lab in India by the end of 2008.

Operators and Equipment Vendors
Indian telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam, Tata Communications and Reliance ADAG have launched WiMAX initiatives to provide broadband access.

WiMAX equipment vendors hoping to strike it big in India include Soma Networks, Telsima and Motorola.

The BSNL deployment will be based on Soma’s FlexMAX Mobile WiMAX technology while Tata is working with Telsima.

Tata has committed to investing $500 million on WiMAX over a three-year period and expects to have 200,000 customers in the consumer segment in 2009.

One Response to "Will WiMAX be India’s Broadband Salvation?"

  1. zx1403   August 15, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    First even with Wi-Max or any other technology the situation wont get solved. You have forgotten how internet gets accessed. By all accounts the PC penetration in India is 5 per 1000 or roughly 5 million. Out of which 4.4 million have Internet !!

    Secondly we need to talk about access to Internet, then unlike in western world, internet gets accessed primarily through cyber-cafes. While the actual number of broadband connections is low, your comparing it with the Indian population figure is erroneous ( cause the number of people accessing it is much higher).

    Thirdly India is fast moving ahead to overtake China in the mobile space, which is fast being seen as the next best internet access device. With 3G Spectrum bidding going on (and the Bozo TRAI has actually opened up the bidding to the AT&T’s and BT’s of the world who have themselves done such a poor job in their home countries), its only sometime before the access part would shift from PC to mobile phone. Just to give you some numbers, India has upwards of 250 million connections right now and its expected to reach 600 million by 2011 ( and more than 50% of it would be handsets with 3G, roughly more than 300 million).

    Though the bozos at TRAI might have failed miserably, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that mobile rates in India are lowest in the world. Infact by all standards India beats United States in the choice and availability of mobile service. For starters

    1) there is no charge on incoming calls on any plan ( prepaid or postpaid ) –
    2) No charge on incoming SMS

    Lets compare it with United States. The monopoly of 2 or 3 large players have ensured that 90% of the population uses long term contracts with handsets bundles in ( with lesser choice of handsets – Unlike in India where you can choose your postpaid plan and choose your handset).

    India has 80% prepaid subscribers and the lowest call charges in the world Re 1 per minute anywhere in India thats 2.5 cents !! Its the fastest growing telecom market in the world.

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