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Betting Big on 4G: BWA services expected to outperform 3G

March 30, 2012

Despite the 3G uptake in India failing to pass muster, several major telecom companies are betting big on 4G services. Reliance Industries Limited, which is aiming to emerge as a leading operator in the broadband wireless access service space, has ambitious plans of launching high speed data services on low-cost tablets by mid-2012.

The company plans to offer 4G-enabled data cards that can be plugged into computers and laptops, apart from providing tablets at prices starting from Rs 3,000 to acquire customers. Connectivity speeds will be in the 50-100 Mbps range.

Industry analysts attribute the rush to jump on to the 4G bandwagon to the new services which will be available for customers through this medium. Broadly, these services would include accessing the internet from anywhere at any time, global roaming and wider support for multimedia applications.

Interestingly, 4G service uptake in India is expected to be significantly higher than 3G. Several factors would facilitate this. For instance, unlike 3G, which is available only on mobile networks, 4G caters to both the wireless and fixed line segments. Also, analysts say that 4G will add value to the operators’ business and mission-critical applications.

Moreover, the cost of roll-out and scalability of a 4G network is lower than that of a 3G network. Therefore, an operator’s total cost of ownership for a 4G network will be lower while the quality of service and customer experience will be better.

4G has made significant inroads on the global stage. Companies such as NTT DOCOMO and Sprint Nextel deployed the technology in 2006. Currently, telecom majors like Verizon and AT&T offer 4G data packages for handsets, tablets and computers.

As the 4G segment gains momentum across global markets, applications will play a key role in service uptake. According to sector experts, a combination of voice, video and data applications will drive the growth of this segment in the near future.

In India, the following applications are expected to witness increased uptake once 4G networks are deployed:

Applications

Telemedicine

4G networks are expected to facilitate the provision of healthcare services in rural and remote areas through teleconferencing, etc.

Teleconferencing

4G networks could help the police and fire departments, medical institutions, etc. provide faster, more reliable and less expensive services during emergencies.

M-commerce

M-commerce is still nascent in India, but will pick up rapidly with operators like Bharti Airtel launching services like Airtel Money, which is a virtual wallet facility. 4G networks are expected to enhance such services significantly in terms of access, content and features.

High network speeds will help retailers make their websites and mobile-based advertisements more interactive and easy to navigate. Further, with smartphones packing in faster processors, improved graphics and increased RAM, users can avail of facilities such as biometric scanning and near field communication.

Mobile video/Video chat

While most handsets support video recording and playback, the next step will be to link video applications to mobile networks. In this case, long term evolution and Wi-Max 4G networks will be able to accommodate broadcast-quality data traffic. Video chat/calling is expected to be useful for media companies which provide live broadcast services.

Similarly, video chat on 4G-enabled handsets will allow users to make phone-to-PC calls through high speed connections, that provide improved video quality.

Currently, devices available in India, including the Beetel Magiq 3G Android tablet and the Aakash Ubislate device support video chatting and calling. Going forward, 4G networks are expected to make these services faster and more streamlined, with minimum loss of connectivity.

Mobile gaming

The Indian mobile gaming market is expected to be valued at Rs 14.3 billion by 2014, up from Rs 2.4 billion in 2010, according to a joint report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and KPMG.

Various operators have already launched gaming services. TATA DOCOMO, for example, has introduced the Let’s Play service in collaboration with Exent. The service enables 3G customers to download games from the operators’ 3G portal on to their handsets and access them on the move. On 4G networks, such services will become faster and more efficient.

Going forward, portable 4G-based Wi-Fi routers will enable online gamers to collaborate with five to eight users in different locations simultaneously.

Globally, such routers are offered by Sprint (the Overdrive device) and Clearwire (the Clear Spot device). These devices receive 4G-based network signals and transmit them to gaming devices via a small Wi-Fi network.

Cloud-based applications

According to a joint study by Nasscom and Deloitte, the Indian cloud computing market would be valued at $16 billion in 2020. About two-thirds of this growth will be driven by new businesses.

With the introduction of 4G technology, cloud computing-based services are expected to become more reliable, secure and functional. This is because the broadband-based “pipe” will be able to accommodate heavy data traffic, which is expected to be almost 10 times the current capacity of cloud applications.

This would help enterprises, which require access to transaction-heavy applications that are mainly internet-based  customer relationship management and real-time collaboration platforms.

Cloud-based applications will enable consumers to avail of faster mobile connections and stream full-length television shows and movies.

Navigation with augmented reality

Higher bandwidth on 4G networks is expected to accommodate the augmented reality application, which enables a handset to display real-time visual data using the camera and the global positioning system.

This is expected to help logistics and companies with a large sales force to track their shipments and vehicles in real time.

Location-based services are also expected to benefit from the uptake of these applications. Currently, operators such as Tata Teleservices Limited offer such services (Offers Near Me).

Issues and concerns

According to analysts, several issues and concerns need to be addressed to ensure the successful implementation of 4G in India.

Existing 3G networks already offer applications like fast internet, movie streaming and multiplayer games, but these services have not witnessed the expected levels of uptake owing to high subscription costs and poor 3G connectivity.

Also, the availability of utility-based content on mobile internet networks is limited (except entertainment and news services). Therefore, content developers need to expand their service portfolio. Availability of content in vernacular languages is another issue.

Also, availability of content and services is confined to a part of the population (urban users). Thus, the ecosystem needs to be expanded to ensure 4G services are available to all. Further, considering that 4G is an internet protocol-based technology, the backhaul infrastructure needs to be better equipped to support  increased data traffic.

Availability of 4G-enabled handsets will be another key factor for service uptake. Currently, such handsets are not available in the country and the price of such devices may be too high at the time of launch.

Conclusion

Net, net, 4G services are expected to enable faster, and more efficient and secure wireless services. However, issues involving the architecture, security and privacy of current networks need to be addressed to ensure the success of these services.

 
 

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