4G in India: The devices are here, how soon before 4G services go mainstream?

The focus has shifted from voice to data. In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of hue and cry in India about how the successor of 3G services, 4G will dominate the year 2015.

The focus has shifted from voice to data as far as telecommunications go. In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of hue and cry in India about how the successor of 3G services, 4G will dominate the year 2015.  With 4G, specifically Long Term Evolution (LTE), one can expect theoretical data download speeds of up to 40 Mbps on mobile handsets. This means, watching a live football game on your handset will be distortion and lag-free. Moreover, blazing speeds will also pave an efficient way to services including VoIP, streaming video, and video calls.

The handsets are there...

Undoubtedly, phone makers seem to be on track and have diverted their attention towards 4G. Evidently, we can see the commitment towards bringing 4G devices in India. In the past couple of weeks, we've seen Lenovo A6000, Oppo R5,  Xiaomi Note 4G, Micromax Yu Yureka, and one thing that is common among them is that they all support 4G.  Xiaomi, known for its flash sales, has opted to team up with Airtel, encouraging users to shift to 4G. Airtel is ready to offer 4G plans at 3G prices for the device. Gionee has also announced that starting 2015, all its smartphones priced above Rs 10,000 will feature LTE.

4G in India: The devices are here, how soon before 4G services go mainstream?


Most companies had started testing 4G devices last year, and if the chatter online is to be believed, then many have started working at bringing low-cost budget 4G devices to India. Microsoft is ready to launch its low-cost Lumia 735 LTE handset here while Huawei plans to bring its 4G devices priced under Rs 10,ooo to India by mid-2015.

...What about the network?

Mediatek, known to power most budget devices entering Indian market, had also unveiled its 4G LTE chipset, the MT6595, to take on its rival Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 chipset family. Last year, it hoped to sell around 300 million chips, out of which 30 million would be 4G LTE chips. It expects the number to increase in 2015 and 2016 with more markets including India transitioning to 4G LTE technology.

However, even if companies churn out 4G devices, a dime a dozen, it wouldn't really matter unless proper 4G infrastructure and services are in place. Sure, getting a 4G enabled phone, specially when it is being offered at affordable rates, is a good way to future-proof your investment. But barring few lucky cities, 4G is yet to be seen across India. Surprisingly, even our commercial capital, Mumbai, hasn't tasted the 4G experience yet.

Industry speaks

"At the current bandwidth, users are not able to enjoy uninterrupted video streaming. We are hoping that 4G will be introduced in the country at the earliest possible time. Some service providers have already started gearing up to launch 4G services in the country. This is an exciting time for smartphone makers like us who are committed to delighting users with innovative devices. Our smartphones, namely Oppo R5, Oppo Find 7 and Oppo Find 7A are all 4G/LTE compatible devices. We plan to introduce more 4G enabled devices this year," said Tom Lu, CEO, Oppo Mobiles India.

While everyone was expecting a proper 4G rollout to more cities in India in late-2014 and a further boost as we entered 2015, it looks like we will have to wait until mid-2015 to see some real action on a pan-India level.

"At the moment, there is still no clarity on when 4G will be rolled out in the country but given the honourable Prime Minister’s Digital India dream, both broadband and 4G are likely to be given huge boost this year. We don’t see a reason to get involved in the 4G space as this seems well catered for by the incumbent players. However, we plan to partner with these operators within our Wi-fi strategy to allow data offload where possible to assist network operators with the huge growth of data consumption," said Nigel Eastwood, CEO, New Call Telecom.

Lenovo A6000 will compete with the likes of Redmi 1S, Yureka, etc.

Recently launched Lenovo A6000 4G smartphone will compete with the likes of Redmi 1S, Yureka, etc.

Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, bought 1800 MHz spectrum in a number of circles in last year's February auctions. This means, they can deploy 4G services using FDD-LTE technology anytime. The global ecosystem around 4G FDD-LTE is far more developed than the other LTE technology, TD-LTE. However, only Aircel and Airtel have managed to launch 4G services in a limited way in select cities.

The roadblocks

As per auction conditions, the successful bidders are required to provide 90 percent coverage in metro areas, if they have spectrum there, and 50 percent of rural area within five years. If a company fails to meet roll-out conditions, spectrum will be taken back. However, telecom industry body COAI had requested the Department of Telecom to extend deadline for roll out of 4G services to 2020 citing various hurdles, mainly delay in development of technology and regulatory procedures.

“The inability of the operators to even launch the services on the allocated spectrum is primarily on account of delay in development of the requisite device and network ecosystem, a prime factor which is predominantly out of the control of telecom service providers,” COAI had said.

This could be the possible reason why telcos like Airtel and Reliance Jio couldn't launch services as promised last year in September.  Last year, in September, Airtel was said to be brining its 4G services to Mumbai and Delhi, but they have been a no-show yet. Airtel currently offers its 4G services through dongles and mobile devices.  A report early last year had hinted that Reliance Jio was almost building up team for its telecom services that was likely to be launched in the third quarter of 2014 (July-September period) starting from Delhi and Mumbai.

Oppo R5 is not only a slim phone but also comes with 4G LTE capability

Oppo R5 is not only a slim phone but also comes with 4G LTE capability

OEMs quite optimistic

Despite this, OEMs seem quite optimistic about 4G growth in India in 2015. Sudhin Mathur, Director, Smartphones, Lenovo India who also believes budget 4G is the next upcoming trend said, "According to a recent report by PwC, India is expected to have 10-15 million subscribers of 4G LTE by December 2015. Airtel has already launched 4G in 16 cities and Aircel holds TD-2300MHz 4G spectrums in eight circles. Besides this, Reliance with a pan-India license aims to cover 700 cities (including 100 high-priority markets) in this year. We will also see multiple players launching 4G on a more efficient 1800 MHz spectrum.  At the same time, India is expected to have a mobile Internet user base of 480 million by 2017 and as a result the demand for high speed mobile Internet is also expected to accelerate further. We expect the year 2015 to be a game-changer for the telecom industry with the 4G services being rolled out across the country on a massive scale."

“There is no denying the fact that India will be the largest smartphone market in the world by the end of this decade. The country already has the fastest growing mobile internet base across the world and is poised to become the second largest country (by user base) across the world by end 2015. And therefore, as more and more smartphones are made available in the market, the demand for mobile internet is going to increase by leaps and bounds," adds Oppo's Lu.

How the players currently stand

Reliance Industries is known to be announcing the commercial launch of its 4G telecom service of RJio in 2015 entailing investments of Rs 70,000 crore. RJio will initially cover about 5,000 towns and cities accounting for over 90 percent of urban India, as well as over 215,000 villages in India and the target is to expand this to over 600,000 villages. It is the only one with pan-India spectrum availability.

The telco at the forefront at launching 4G services in India has been Bharti Airtel so far, covering circles like Nasik, Pune, Panchkula, Bangalore and more.

Vodafone, it seems, is focussing on expanding its 3G coverage amidst the surging data growth. However, some reports had pointed at the company's plan of testing 4G services in five circles, namely, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Kolkata and Mumbai, wherein it won 5 MHz or more of airwaves in the 1800 MHz band last year. However, another report pointed out that the  operations will begin only when cheaper 4G mobile devices are readily available.

We tried contacting the telcos for a quote, but most of them refused to comment.

Disclaimer: Reliance Jio is owned by Reliance Industries, who also own Network18, the publisher of Firstpost and tech2

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