Monday, July 19, 2010

Regulaory Developments in Indian WiMAX

Indian Policies now recognize Mobile WiMAX as an alternative technology to 3G

The newly announced changes to the 3G auction Policy and the WiMAX spectrum auctions now contains elements of recognition that WiMAX is not simply a way to extend wireless but an entirely viable and complete technology in itself. The recognition of the importance of WiMAX to be able to operate as an independent network providing voice, video and data services came in the form of doubling of the minimum reserve price for WiMAX auctions from Rs. 50.5 Billion ( $1.2Billion) to Rs 100.10 Billion ( $2.4 Billion).

Considering the runaway growth of mobile subscribers at over 10 million a month and the consequent shortage of spectrum has led to a wake up call to the government. The 3G, which at one stage was being intended to be given away to existing players at throwaway prices will now be auctioned to all players including foreign bidders, thus breaking a cozy club which had kept the prices artificially high for roaming and any form of value added services.

The government and the regulator have also recognized the value of the WiMAX spectrum in the prime mobile WiMAX bands of 2.1, 2.3 and 2.5 GHz bands which is slated for auction in the near future. The new revised price is a reflection of the recognition of these bands for providing a range of mobile WiMAX based services including VoIP, broadband internet and video. It may be recalled that earlier in Aug 2008, the regulator had already recommended opening up of VoIP services, previously limited to only fixed line or mobile service licenses to ISPs as well. WiMAX, then had become a natural candidate for the ISPs to potentially provide all services including Mobile Voice using the WiMAX technologies. The new spectrum policy also opens up the 700 MHz band for WiMAX auctions, denying the plea of industry players to keep this band reserved for Terrestrial Digital TV. However, once auctioned the new WiMAX players are more than likely to use this band for WiMAX TV services. With capabilities of indoor reception and long cell sizes the band is ideally suited for WiMAX TV.

WiMAX bands of 2.3 and 2.5 GHz are the ones where certified WiMAX devices are already available or will be available by end of the year making these the prime bands for inexpensive deployment of mobile WiMAX networks with ready availability of user devices.

The importance of Mobile WiMAX spectrum and in particular the 2.5 GHz band has increased after the WRC’07 had adopted OFDMA-TDD as one of the approved air interfaces under the IMT2000 implying that the band can be used under the 3GPP architectures. However the initial deployments are likely to use WiMAX networks along with the IP Multimedia system (IMS) as defined under the 3GPP.

While the reserve prices are still a reasonable $2.4 Billion for the whole country, it is expected that the auction process will lead to a price discovery which is at least double of these prices, probably more. This also impacts the state run companies BSNL and MTNL as they need to pay for spectrum at the same rates as the highest bids received. This is likely to impact their cash flows in the absence of sale of equity unlike the private players. It also has the potential to bring new aggressive players who have started their life as ISPs to enter the lucrative mobile services market.

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